The case, Aviva v Sudjak & others, led to an award of £74k in damages, including £50k exemplary damages, with savings for Aviva totalling more than £300,000 and costs to be decided.
In delivering his verdict at a damages assessment hearing, the judge commented: “If the fraud had not been uncovered; if Aviva had not investigated with the vigour that they did—the fraud may well have succeeded. Aviva would then have been facing some 40 claims for whiplash and associated damages and costs, conservatively valued at over £250,000.”
The staged incident occurred when a Skoda being driven by an accomplice overtook a bus containing the claimants, before pulling out at a junction causing a minor collision.
Several claimants were caught on CCTV theatrically throwing themselves around even though the impact was at a minor speed.
A massive 40 claims were initiated for soft tissue injuries, all brought by claimants under the age of 45. This was a huge miscalculation on the part of the fraudsters, according to Keoghs, as CCTV showed many elderly people on the bus at the time of the collision, none of whom moved on impact.
Keoghs and Aviva uncovered links between various claimants and also the driver of the Skoda, which formed the foundation of their defence.
Facebook searches revealed a previous suspicious accident involving the same vehicle and its driver, which also provided links back to the bus claimants via mutual friends.
Six of the claimants repeated their fraudulent misrepresentations to medico-legal experts and there were incriminating inconsistencies with the injuries claimed.
The driver of the Skoda gave no creditable reason for his actions, which included waiting for the bus in a side street before overtaking it, and then performing a U-turn to get in position for the crash. The driver was also unable to identify the passenger in his car beyond their first name.
Armed with significant evidence, Aviva and Keoghs applied to bring a Part 20 claim in the torts of deceit and unlawful conspiracy against six litigated claimants, the driver of the Skoda and three other linked individuals—they also had a number of further claims waiting in the wings.
At this point in the case, solicitors for the six litigated claimants had come off record, leaving them as litigants in person. There was no compliance with any directions, prompting Keoghs to apply to strike out the six claims while simultaneously seeking judgment on the torts of deceit and unlawful conspiracy against 10 of the claimants.
The claims were struck out and judgment was entered against the 10 claimants (who legally then became defendants), with a damages assessment hearing set to follow.
At the damages assessment hearing, the judge commented: “Suffice to say that it seems to me that this was a fraud by which it was intended by the defendants and other individuals to make a significant profit from staging a road traffic accident…
“Cases of fraud such as this are the very cases in which such exemplary damages will be called for; otherwise the amount of damages awarded would not come near to a reasonable estimate of the potential profits of the fraud.”
An award was made totalling £74k in damages, which included a £50k exemplary damages against the fraudsters, plus costs to be decided. Savings for Aviva totalled more than £300,000.
The case was handled throughout by Keoghs associate Katie Lomax, with head of advocacy Mark Stanger dealing with court work and representing Aviva at the damages assessment hearing.
Lomax commented: “This was a case where a number of individuals conspired together in order to gain financially. Had the fraud gone undetected, a substantial amount of damages would have been paid out by Aviva and this behaviour is not victimless.
“The joint approach between Keoghs and Aviva in issuing claims in deceit against the fraudsters, followed by a significant exemplary damages award, will hopefully provide a lesson to them and deter any future fraudsters.”
Carl Mather, manager of the Aviva special investigation unit, said: “Aviva values our customers, and we are acutely conscious of the economic difficulties faced by many people at this time. We will therefore not rest in our ongoing commitment to mitigate the impact of fraud on policy premiums.”
Mather continued: “The business continues to invest in counter fraud capability and this judgment is evidence that Aviva will employ the most effective tools in the box to disrupt and deter fraudsters.
“Close collaboration between Aviva and Keoghs underpinned the presentation of a case which was accepted by the judge as a conspiracy to defraud. Those who sought to benefit from their deceit now face an award of £74k against them and Aviva has safeguarded honest customers from the repercussions of a significant fraud loss.”
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