Horwich Farrelly action sees claimants ordered to pay £12,000
A pair of football fans have been given the red card after being found guilty of making dishonest personal injury claims to First Bus. Claims made by 53-year old Neil Muscroft of Pontefract and Martin Costello, 51, of Leeds are the first of more than fifty submitted to First Bus, following a very minor collision, to have reached trial. After considering evidence submitted by specialist legal firm Horwich Farrelly, on behalf of First Bus, including CCTV footage from the bus itself, the judges in both cases had no hesitation in ruling the claims as being fundamentally dishonest, and ordered the pair to repay total legal costs of £12,000.
The two claims concerned a minor incident which had taken place in November 2013. A First Bus packed full of football supporters – many of whom were standing - was on its way to Leeds United’s Elland Road stadium. With many other vehicles heading to the match, traffic was stop/start and the bus was travelling at less than 10 mph.
At a roundabout, the bus became slightly too close to a Ford Fiesta travelling in front and there was a minor collision. Fortunately, there was only minor damage to the two vehicles and the occupants of the Fiesta – a retired couple – were entirely unharmed. However, First Bus subsequently received more than 50 claims for personal injury compensation and expenses from bus passengers in the following weeks and months.
Given the very low speed at the time of the collision the First Bus internal claims team, Transportation Claims, working with Horwich Farrelly’s counter fraud team investigated a number of the claims received including those of Muscroft and Costello, which were worth around £4,200 and £2,400 respectively. They revealed significant inconsistencies across the two claims with compelling evidence submitted during the two trials held at Leeds County Court in April and June 2016.
Firstly, Muscroft alleged the force of the collision had thrown him to the ground causing him to suffer injuries to his neck and shoulder for 8-10 months. However, statements from the occupants of the Fiesta confirmed that the collision was extremely minor in nature and could not feasibly have caused such injuries. In addition, CCTV footage from the bus showed passengers were so tightly packed that there simply would not have been room for Muscroft to fall.
The investigation also showed that despite stating he was in constant, severe pain for many weeks after the incident, Muscroft had taken no time off work, had not mentioned his alleged injuries during other GP appointments in the two months following the collision, and had even declined the offer of physiotherapy for which he had claimed.
In the case of Costello, he was clearly shown on the CCTV from the bus twice holding his neck whilst smiling in the moments after the incident. This was despite his claim stating that the pain only began the following day. Once challenged in court by the judge, the claimant struggled to explain his actions.
In light of evidence collected and presented by First Bus and Horwich Farrelly, the judge in each case found the claim to be fundamentally dishonest, and ordered Muscroft and Costello to pay First Bus costs of £7,163 and £4,839 respectively.
Paul Matthews, Managing Director of First Leeds, said: “When a collision occurs between vehicles of such different sizes, you would always expect the occupants of the smaller one to come off worse than the people in the larger, heavier vehicle. However, in this case the driver and passenger of the small car confirmed no injuries, whilst over 50 people on the bus made personal injury claims. This was a clear indicator to us that something was not quite right, and it was worth a full and detailed investigation to dispute the claims in court.
“Our determination to fight fraud reflects our “zero tolerance” approach. Our team of insurance and investigative experts rigorously analyse every detail behind every claim. We hope that the Muscroft and Costello cases will deter others from making false claims.”
Mark Hudson, Fraud Partner at Horwich Farrelly, explained: “The CCTV footage of the second claimant holding his neck, yet clearly not in any pain immediately after the collision, suggested to us that he was joking with friends about whiplash, and possibly even about making a claim – another indicator that this claim was worth investigating further. Alongside other parts of his statement which contradicted the CCTV evidence and witness statements, and his failure to produce statements from the witnesses he named, provided enough evidence for the judge to conclude this was indeed a dishonest claim.
“This sends a clear message to other would-be fraudsters that a fake claim is simply not worth it. These claimants have ended up paying almost double the amount for which they claimed – a costly mistake they are likely to regret for some time to come. We have a wide range of tools and many resources at our disposal which allow us to conduct detailed investigations in order to track down and stop fraudsters who cost the industry millions ever year, pushing up the premiums of innocent policyholders.”