Honesty is the best policy – social media evidence costs injury claimant £200,000 after false claims

Let’s be honest, once in a while it can be tempting to exaggerate our illness or injuries to garner a bit of extra tea and sympathy from our family.

‘But unfortunately, some claimants are also tempted to exaggerate the nature of their injuries when it comes to claiming compensation,’ says personal injury solicitor Navdip Gill. ‘But this is a foolish and potentially very costly strategy, as a fraudulent or dishonest claim will see a claimant penalised by the court.’

Such was the case for Richard Walken who tried to claim compensation in the order of £1.5 million when he alleged that a cable car accident at Drayton Manor Park had left him with serious lower back injuries.

Substantial compensation is not unusual for a severe back injury, as problems can be long-lasting and have a serious detriment on a person’s abilities to undertake day-to-day tasks (never mind leisure pursuits) and to earn a living if their work is physical.  Mr Walken had claimed that the accident had ended his career and prevented him continuing his hobby of beekeeping.

While Drayton Manor Park Ltd admitted liability for the accident, they disputed the figures prepared by Mr Walken’s legal team (not this firm) and, as the figure could not be agreed, the case went to trial for the judge to decide the appropriate amount of compensation.

During the trial, the judge was shown photographs from social media of Mr Walken, sat on the edge of a raft in full rafting gear prior going down the rapids of a river in South Africa. The photo was taken just eight months after the cable car incident.

White water rafting requires a substantial amount of energy, physical activity and balance – much more than beekeeping! Consequently, the judge concluded that the claimant had exaggerated his injuries so much that the claim was ‘fundamentally dishonest’ and dismissed Mr Walken’s claim.

While Mr Walkden’s legal team challenged this, the High Court, judge upheld the decision that he had been fundamentally dishonest.

 

Implications of fundamental dishonesty

Such dishonesty is deemed to be fraudulent, and insurers (who are obliged to minimise pay-outs to keep policy premiums low) will want the court to dismiss such a claim in its entirety. In addition, under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, the insurer can also seek to recover their legal costs.

Ordinarily in a personal injury case if the claimant loses the trial, they are not liable for any costs, which is the reason that we are able to act for accident victims on a no-win no-fee basis.

However, the defendant and their insurer may apply to the court for an order that the claimant should be liable for all or fixed costs. For example, when someone claimed gardening expenses of £14,000 after an injury in the case of London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games v Sinfield (2018) it was shown that the gardener had been employed long before the accident and false invoices had been created, and as a result the judge dismissed the whole claim.

Similarly, Mr Walkden received no compensation for the accident, despite acknowledgement of liability by the theme park.  Instead of receiving a fair settlement, his dishonesty meant that he received a bill for the legal costs of the entire case, which are believed to exceed £200,000.

 

The role of expert evidence

The lawyers for the theme park were able to present incontrovertible evidence in the form of medical records, social media profiling, and covert surveillance.

‘We explain to all injury claimants that this is the approach the other side’s lawyers are likely to take, as such cases are won and lost in the arena of expert evidence and witness statements,’ explains Navdip.

‘It is important to provide an open and honest account of any symptoms, and whether they have participated in any activities which might have an impact on their claim.’

For example, in the case of a bad back, it might be possible to cycle gently once a week when previously you went cycling every day.  Medical experts would be able to offer a view and the trial judge would be sympathetic to an honest claimant.

On the other hand, by keeping quiet about the cycling (thinking it is not relevant or may be detrimental) and makes no mention in their witness statement, then our orthopaedic surgeon will be put on spot if ambushed with a photograph from social media of you on a bike.  The trial judge will also be less sympathetic to someone who appears untruthful.

 

Honesty is the best policy

‘It is a concern that people with genuine accident claims don’t always come forward because they are fearful of such intrusive investigations and the adversarial litigation process’ says Navdip.

Reading about failed cases, such as that of Mr Walken, may make those who have sustained life changing injuries think twice about approaching a solicitor.

However, it costs nothing to have a chat about your case and find out what you might be entitled to.  Honesty is the best policy, and if you have nothing to hide, you may find that you have a great deal to gain.

 

Get in touch

You can read more information about our specialist personal injury services, and request a call back.

If you have any questions or have suffered a complex injury and would like to discuss your claim, please contact Navdip Gill on 01908 689338 or email ngill@geoffreyleaver.com for a free initial consultation.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

 

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Navdip Gill, Partner

Navdip Gill | Partner