13-11-2019

Local authority client prevents fraudster from robbing the highways public purse

On 31 October 2019, Deputy District Judge Lalas found that Mr Williamson’s discontinued claim against Sunderland City Council was fundamentally dishonest. He has been ordered to pay the Council’s costs on the indemnity basis, which are likely to exceed £19,000.

The claim

Mr Williamson had been watching the football at his friend’s house in April 2015. He alleged, that whilst walking home with his brother, he fell over a defect in the highway which caused him injury. He did not report the defect, his accident or injury to the Council at the time. 

The concerns and early repudiation

Sunderland City Council were suspicious about the veracity of the claim given the late presentation of the claim and commenced investigations. These investigations confirmed:

  • The locus was located directly under a working street light and therefore Mr Williamson’s account of poor visibility was demonstrably false.
  • Mr Williamson’s medical records confirmed (contrary to his pleaded case) that:
    • He did not know how his accident had occurred.
    • He had been drinking the night before.
    • He had suffered from a recurrent knee problem for the three years prior to the index accident.
  • Mr Williamson’s evidence to his expert that he had no previous knee problems, was emphatically false.
  • The instability, reported as part of the claim, pre-dated the accident.
  • Mr Williamson had not returned to playing football since an accident in 2011; the index accident had no impact.

Sunderland Council issued an early repudiation, highlighting the above issues and invited Mr Williamson to withdraw his claim.

He pursued his claim, commencing legal proceedings. Sunderland City Council’s defence maintained that the claim was fundamental dishonesty. In the face of the pleading, Williamson discontinued his claim.

Sunderland City Council take fraudulent claims seriously. They recognise their responsibility in balancing the public interest in protecting the public purse from fraud against the costs associated with defending claims like this.

It is important to demonstrate this to those living and working within the local authority area. With this in mind, they sought to pursue a finding against the claimant that the claim was dishonest.

The application and outcome

Sunderland City Council issued their application for a finding that the claim was fundamentally dishonest pursuant to CPR 44.16, which would also allow costs to be recovered. In doing so they evidenced that:

  1. The route taken by the claimant did not make sense and was not the most direct route.
  2. The claimant provided a false address for his friend in order to try and demonstrate the alleged route as logical.
  3. Investigations showed the friend’s true address meant that the purported route taken, would have extended the alleged journey time by 50%.
  4. Contrary to his statement that he was unfamiliar with the area, it was well known to Williamson as he had previously lived at a property just around the corner from the defect.

Sitting in Sunderland City Court, Deputy District Judge Lalas provided a detailed and considered judgment to explain why she rejected Mr Williamson’s attempts to explain the inconsistencies. It was her judgment that Mr Williamson:

  • Failed to provide to evidence to support his assertion that he discontinued the claim due to medical reasons;
  • Was inconsistent in his actions. The failure to report the defect and delay in pursuing the claim did not correspond with him allegedly taking photographs of the defect within three days of the alleged accident;
  • Had refused to provide witness evidence and/or metadata during the course of the litigation to prove the veracity of the photograph evidence;
  • Provided no supportive witness evidence from witnesses to corroborate his account, despite the serious nature of Sunderland City Council’s allegations;
  • Admitted that he lied to his expert about his previous knee problems and as a result the judge felt unable to accept his evidence as honest or accurate;
  • Offered no evidence to corroborate any element of his claim.

DDJ Lalas found that the claim was fundamentally dishonest on the balance of probabilities and ordered the claimant to pay Sunderland City Council’s costs of the action on an indemnity basis.

This judgment serves as a reminder that Sunderland City Council will take a strong stance to protect the public purse from fraudulent claims and that there is a financial consequence to those that present false or exaggerated claims.

This is a positive outcome for Sunderland City Council and was achieved by thorough pre litigation claims handling and robust litigation by Kennedys. Mr Williamson was given every opportunity to discontinue at an early stage. We will be pursuing Mr Williamson for our full costs. 

Julie Girdwood, Insurance and Claims Manager, Sunderland City Council.