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NFU Mutual and Browne Jacobson send powerful fraud deterrent message

24 July 2017
A recent court Judgment has determined a precedent case to help the insurance industry’s commitment to tackle professional enabler fraud, in a landmark costs victory against a law firm acting without instructions. 

The UK’s leading rural insurer NFU Mutual uncovered evidence of suspected fraud in Preston law firm Barber & Co, when a claimant injured in a road traffic accident during June 2011 appeared to have two solicitors acting for him on a personal injury claim. 

NFU Mutual devoted significant time and resources to resolving the rightful proprietor of the case and instructed solicitors firm Browne Jacobson LLP to conduct a thorough investigation, pursuing Barber & Co for its inability to address serious failings of staff, and the suspected fraudulent handling of a personal injury claim. 

In delivering his final Judgment in a hearing during May 15-16 2017, Dickson v NFU Mutual v Barber & Co Solicitors, His Honour Judge Peter Hughes QC sent a powerful deterrent message by ordering Barber & Co to pay indemnity costs to NFU Mutual and the legitimate firm acting on behalf of the claimant, describing the conduct of Barber & Co during the course of the investigation as both “evasive” and “reprehensible”.

Barber & Co could also now face a criminal investigation after the judge instructed the Judgment to be passed to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Lancashire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for Lancashire for further investigation. 

HHJ Peter Hughes QC, said: “It appears that a number of criminal offences may have been committed through the firm of Barber. These include fraud in making a false claim for compensation, forgery of a medical report, and engaging in acts tending to pervert the course of justice. These are serious allegations, if substantiated.” 

Rob Spiegelhalter, Claims Fraud Manager at NFU Mutual, commented:

“This was a long and often challenging claim and the actions of the solicitor’s firm in this case have been rightly penalised by the judge.

Our determination to uncover fraud to protect our member’s interests prevented the firm receiving the claims compensation and costs in a case where they were never entitled. The Judgment is not only a victory for NFU Mutual but should also serve to help the insurance industry in the broader fight to tackle suspected fraud by professional organisations.” 

Paul Wainwright Partner and Head of Counter Fraud at Browne Jacobson LLP added:

“We have seen by this Judgment that law firms, who are non-parties, and who turn a blind eye to suspected fraudulent practices of its staff, will be punished by the Civil Courts in costs. By using CPR 46.2 and section 51 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 we have found an extremely effective means to hold non-parties to account. 

I believe this sets a precedent, but more importantly provides a powerful deterrent, which will be widely adopted by the counter-fraud community to stop such practices.”

Barber & Co Solicitors, who had claimed to be acting on the claimants behalf, agreed settlement with NFU Mutual’s claims team on a 50:50 basis and submitted a medical report in support of the claim from Dr Laxmi Patel in April 2012. 

Significant inconsistencies in the Barber & Co report first came to light in July 2012, when a firm of solicitors who were correctly acting for Mr Dickson provided other medical evidence and issued proceedings to provide settlement for their claimant. 

Barber & Co failed to assist in providing evidence, countered by good evidence provided by the rightful firm, and during the investigation a suspected forged medico-legal report was uncovered.

Shortly before trial Barber & Co made an unequivocal admission that it did not have instructions from the claimant, and NFU Mutual settled Mr Dickson’s personal injury claim in full. However, the matter of costs and the inaction of Barber & Co remained unresolved. NFU Mutual took the unprecedented step of joining the legitimate firm in the proceedings to recover costs, and to ensure evidence was available to the trial judge to determine liability.

HHJ Peter Hughes QC added:

“What is abundantly clear, though, is that Barber have constantly stalled and obfuscated, and have failed to assist those acting for the claimant and the defendant to resolve the position. This has materially delayed the resolution of the claim and added significantly to the costs.”

The issue of fraudulent practice of the solicitors overseeing Barber & Co has been demurred and is now being investigated by the SRA. This case is to be heard later this year. 

 

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