Easy paydays should be a thing of the past

James Murray of Attey Solicitors in Sheffield .17th June  2011.Images � Paul David Drabble
James Murray of Attey Solicitors in Sheffield .17th June 2011.Images � Paul David Drabble
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TODAY’S compensation culture can seem to offer a licence to print money.

TODAY’S compensation culture can seem to offer a licence to print money.

But three contempt of court convictions in connection with an exaggerated injury claim are a warning that it’s not just an easy payday, says a Sheffield solicitor.

James Murray, of Atteys, represented a South Yorkshire woman who had provided a witness statement for a young man who, unknown to her, had exaggerated the extent to which he had been affected by a car crash.

The claimant was a passenger and launched a personal injury claim against the driver. Three people, his father and two neighbours, provided witness statements backing him. But the driver’s solicitors contested their claims and brought contempt of court proceedings which were successful.

The young man and his dad were jailed and one neighbour was fined. The second neighbour – Mr Murray’s client – escaped conviction, “but it cost her tens of thousands of pounds and years of worry”, he said.

He added: “If people want to avoid the stress and cost of going to court to ‘defend’ their witness statements, they need to think carefully before agreeing to help.

“With 700,000 personal injury road accidents each year, and claims on the increase during the recession, more people are going to find themselves being asked to provide witness statements.

“You may mean well by providing a statement on the basis of what you believe to be true, but if you are not 100 per cent sure of the facts, or do not really know the person well, it may be better to decline.”

James says anyone asked to provide a witness statement for a personal injury claim should consider the following:

How well you know the claimant.

How familiar you are with the circumstances of the claim.

Whether you are in a position to comment on the health of the individual making the claim.

In three years the number of car crash injury claims has increased by 43 per cent. Smaller claims, mainly whiplash, are now running at about 1,200 a day. Meanwhile, car insurance has risen by 40 per cent in the last year.

Last year, 133,000 fraudulent insurance claims were detected, totalling £919m, an increase of nine per cent on the previous year.

Paul Evans, chief executive of insurers Axa, says the NHS spends about £8m a year treating genuine whiplash – while insurers pay around £2bn in compensation.

He says two main factors are responsible: whiplash fraudsters – the condition is impossible to disprove – and ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements which provide claimants with an incentive to try it on.

Mr Evans wants to see an end to referral fees and the introduction of fixed fees for lawyers.