Zurich Insurance Plc –v- Romaine  EWCA Civ 851
A recent Court of Appeal decision has found that a Judge was wrong to ignore the tactics of “unscrupulous” Claimants and Lawyers, and has granted an Insurer permission to bring Committal Proceedings against a Claimant who had allegedly made knowingly false statements of truth, and then discontinued their claim. This was even though the Insurer had not given the Claimant any warning about the risk of Committal Proceedings.
In Zurich Insurance Plc –v- Romaine  EWCA Civ 851 the Claimant brought a claim for noise induced hearing loss, valued at approximately £5,000.00, against a former employer. The Defendant’s Representatives obtained an intelligence report within which it was alleged that there was evidence that the Claimant had signed a false statement of truth, as it stated that the Claimant had not had any noisy hobbies, when in fact he performed in a live rock-and-roll band and had an interest in motorcycling. Ultimately, the Claimant discontinued the Proceedings, and the Defendant Insurer applied for permission to bring Contempt Proceedings.
Permission was initially refused, with Goose J accepting there was good evidence of false statements being made, but finding that it was not in the public interest that committal proceedings be brought in circumstances where the Defendant had discontinued his claim at a relatively early stage of the proceedings. However, the Court of Appeal has permitted the Appeal from that decision, finding in favour of the Defendant Insurer on three separate grounds:
- “The Judge took into account an irrelevant matter, namely the absence of any warning given to the [Claimant] that if he brought a claim for personal injury for hearing loss based on false statements, he ran the risk of committal proceedings.”
- “The Judge failed to take into account a relevant matter, namely the mischief that early discontinuance represents in the hands of unscrupulous claimants and lawyers who engage in bringing false insurance claims.”
- “‘The Judge erred and was wrong to conclude that the proposed committal proceedings would not be proportionate.”
The Court emphasised that it is not a question of whether Contempt has been committed, but whether it is in the public interest to bring Contempt Proceedings. In the Court of Appeal’s view, it was clearly in the public interest to do so:
“… the message needs to go out to those who might be tempted to bring – or lend their names to – fraudulent claims: that dishonest claimants cannot avoid being liable to committal proceedings merely by discontinuing their original fraudulent claim.”
Haddon LJ commented that the problem of dishonest claims had become “even more acute in recent times” as a result of qualified one-way costs shifting (QOCS) and the costs of proving ‘fundamental dishonesty.’
This case shows that early discontinuance will not be protection against the consequences of dishonest conduct; the Court noted that “Insurers are particularly vulnerable to fraudulent claims” in this type of litigation and that the value of the claim was not a significant argument against granting permission.
Insurers will not be permitted to bring committal proceedings in every case where a witness or a party may have lied on the face of documents which they have signed as being true. Good prima facie evidence of dishonestly false statements was required. The issue of whether the Claimant was “unaware of what was being said or written” by his Solicitors, as he averred, would be dealt with at the Committal Hearing.
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