Charlie Weston : We must come down hard on scammers – and their lawyers

The woman had just loaded the car with the weekly shop.

When she parked in the shopping centre, she knew she would be returning with a trolley full of groceries. This was why she deliberately drove into the parking space, instead of reversing into it.

After loading the car, she started pulling out slowly, looking in her mirror all the time. All of a sudden, she heard a thud. Out of nowhere another car collided with her.

The other car had three people in it. They insisted that no one was injured so there was no need to call an ambulance.

Insurance details were exchanged but the damage was so slight that both drivers agreed there was no need to notify gardaí.

But it was all a scam.

The innocent driver was unaware that she had been targeted by fraudsters.

Shortly after the incident, the people in the car that deliberately instigated the collision contacted the insurance company and pursued injury claims.

The fraudsters claimed for soft tissue injuries, seeking €25,000 each for what they claimed were whiplash injuries. They had legal representation. The insurer settled. All told, the total cost of the claim for the car park chancers was €70,000, in claims and the costs of their lawyers.

And the innocent driver was not even told by her insurer it had paid out, but she did realise it when her premium cost shot up.

This is just one typical try-on by fraudsters.

Scams such as staged accidents, exaggerated claims after genuine accidents and fraudulent claims cost drivers around €200m a year.

The cost to businesses of false and exaggerated claims has not been quantified, but is seen in vastly-inflated premiums.

Businesses have had enough. Their representative bodies are adamant that a small number of “slip-and-trip” lawyers are facilitating the chancers.

They say dodgy claims are clustered around certain towns where well-known ambulance-chasing legal firms are too eager to take on spurious cases. Other towns have few, if any, claims.

A public outcry about the spiralling cost of insurance has seen Minister Eoghan Murphy tasked with producing a report outlining a list of reforms, including a number to tackle our ‘compo culture’.

Thankfully, judges appear to be increasingly inclined to throw out personal injury actions where they suspect the claimant is exaggerating, and awarding costs against them.

But more needs to be done. We need to prosecute perjurers, and take a more robust approach to sanctioning the lawyers who promote these cases.

Perjurers are seldom, if ever, prosecuted.

As long as perjury remains unprosecuted then, as senior counsel Remy Farrell, said: “The administration of the oath becomes little more than a decorous formality.”

Prosecuting perjurers would have a transformative effect on our compo culture and make lawyers operate to a higher standard before they proceed with some questionable cases.

The Law Society needs to continue to come down hard on members who are claims harvesting, with little regard for the veracity of the claims their clients are making.

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