Even after all these (20 or so) years, personal injury lawyer Paul Fretwell recalls the devastating video footage that arrived from the insurance company in the case of one of his clients; she who, according to her evidence, could hardly get out of a chair and was disabled and suffered debilitating pain was shown hanging out her washing in the garden, and moving so fast and freely that one could have been forgiven for thinking that the footage must have been speeded up.
Another of Paul’s darkest moments came when he picked up a certain tabloid newspaper to read the headline; “He settled his case, got out of his wheelchair and left me”. This particular client, it turned out, had fooled everyone (defence experts included) into thinking him disabled when he had actually made a very good recovery. Paul has only known a few such frauds in his 25 years representing injured Claimants. In such cases he has felt furious and betrayed, recognising that these “bad” cases make life so much harder for the vast majority of honest decent people who have sustained life changing injury through someone else’s fault.
The Courts are now able to rule that a claimant has been “fundamentally dishonest” (exaggerating the extent of the injuries and losses) meaning that the Claimant’s lawyer will receive not a penny in legal fees, and the injured person will receive no compensation and may end up in prison for fraud or contempt of court. This does very occasionally happen.
It is likely that most people claiming serious injury are subjected to surveillance. In most cases, Paul never sees the surveillance footage, because it is consistent with the claimed level of disability.
Surveillance can be oppressive and inappropriate; for instance one of Paul’s clients called the police, upset and worried, when his teenage son reported that he was being followed by a stranger. it turned out that these were surveillance operatives.
Surveillance is undoubtedly a powerful weapon in the insurance company’s armoury. However, Paul’s experience is that deliberate exaggeration for financial gain is a rarity and that the bond of trust between solicitor and client is both strong and of vital importance for all.
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