24 March, 2020
Anon v Sunderland City Council
The Claimant alleged that he was involved in a road traffic accident in November 2016. The Claimant and his friend were riding their motorbikes along the road, when he claimed to have encountered a large and deep pothole in the road as he entered a park. He was travelling at 50/60mph and did not see the pothole until it was too late. He struck the pothole, swerved and was thrown over the handlebars, landing just off the road. He fractured his leg as a result.
The Claimant brought a claim against the Defendant. The Defendant admitted breach of statutory duty but put the Claimant to proof that the accident had occurred as suggested. The Defendant acknowledged that an accident of some sort had occurred on that date as an ambulance had attended the accident scene. However, the Defendant had significant concerns regarding the legitimacy of the claim.
On behalf of the Defendant, Forbes carried out a detailed investigation into the claim. The investigation revealed that the Claimant knew one of his supposedly independent witnesses. Prior to the trial commencing the Defendant successfully made an application to rely on a witness statement confirming that he and his witness knew one another, were friends and the witness was the boyfriend of the Claimant's sister.
During the trial, the Defendant subjected the Claimant and his witnesses to robust cross examination. The paramedics and police who had attended the accident scene and the hospital staff all noted and recorded suspicious circumstances. There was an absence of any evidence you would expect to find at the scene of a motorbike accident. There was no accident-related debris from the motorbike, no crash helmet and no motorbike! When the police attended the accident scene there was no motorbike to be seen. The police report/log recorded that the claimant had refused to give the name of the person who had taken the bike and had told them that it was a friend of a friend. During the trial, the Claimant was asked outright: who took the bike away? He replied that his father had attended the scene with a van and loaded up both bikes and had left the scene before the ambulance got there. Supposedly that was done in the twenty-five-minute intervening period between the Claimant's accident occurring and the ambulance arriving. When asked why his father hadn't stayed with his son who had clearly suffered a serious injury, he said that his father had also brought with him his two sisters and possibly his mother as well.
Despite previously giving consistent evidence regarding the description of his accident, at the trial the Claimant gave a new version of events. [He stated that he hit the pothole, then swerved and was thrown over the handlebars]. During cross examination, other inconsistencies in the Claimant's evidence emerged including the length of time he claimed to have been using crutches.
The evidence of the Claimant's witnesses was similarly unconvincing. Aside from the witnesses pretending they did not know each other and then admitting on the morning of the trial that they did know one another, one of the witnesses gave implausible evidence that confirmed that whilst parked at a distance of what must have been a couple of hundred yards away from the accident location, and it being dark (which by the way is something none of the three witnesses were willing to accept despite the accident happening forty-five minutes after sunset) he could still see that the Claimant's accident had been caused due to his motorbike hitting a pothole. That evidence had not been previously given in his witness statement.
The Claimant's other witness who had supposedly been riding his motorbike with the Claimant stated that the Claimant was riding at a speed of 50/60mph, but he was riding at around 25/30mph. Despite the differences in speeds, he was not willing to accept that he could have been further behind than more than 2-4 car lengths and so he could clearly see the Claimant coming off his bike as a result of hitting the pothole.
After hearing the evidence, the Judge found that without any doubt, the Claimant had been dishonest and that this was a dishonest claim. The Judge noted that there was a clear implication from the Claimant's witness evidence that one of his witnesses was a stranger. It was put to the Claimant that he had purposefully sought to mislead by trying to present the witness as an independent witness. The Claimant obviously denied this, but his explanation was unconvincing and one which the Judge found to be 'simply factious…and an explanation which is beyond belief'. The Judge went on to say, 'that this claim has to be manufactured in a manner, by evidence that the witnesses were not willing to admit knowing each other. That's what the intention of that is, there can't be any other interpretation'.
Furthermore, the Judge noted that if it had it not been for the Defendant's detailed and forensic investigations which proved the connections between the Claimant and his witness, that none of that would have been forthcoming in evidence today and that one reading the statements as they were drafted could have had any idea that there was a relationship there. The suggestion made by the Claimant's witness that he didn't identify the Claimant because he wanted his statement to be more professional was simply factious, it is an explanation which is beyond belief. It is more likely that his statement was worded how it was because he wanted to disguise his association with the Claimant. The statements were made only months after the accident occurred. There was no reason as to why they couldn't have identified each other. The only one explanation is that they didn't want the truth to come out.
This is a fantastic result for the Defendant. It sends out a clear message to the Claimant and any associates thinking of bringing claims that claims are scrutinised robustly, and that evidence is amassed meticulously.