The compensation culture in Britain has resulted in local authorities paying out approximately £250 million pounds a year on highways slipping and tripping claims according to recent figures.
The recent emergency budget cuts have had a significant impact on public sector spending resulting in further pressure on council’s highways maintenance budgets.
Insurers and councils are adopting a robust approach to compensation claims to reduce the level of damages and legal/administrative payments where possible. Insurers are increasingly appointing claims fraud and investigation teams to spot fraudulent claims. Surveillance operatives are also instructed where the Claimant is felt to be exaggerating symptoms. Surveillance is expensive and therefore often restricted to claims involving six figure sums but can be extremely effective.
Claims handlers within council’s insurance teams are the first port of call for highways claims. It is very important that complete records are kept of all telephone calls, correspondence and emails with Claimant.
As a defendant personal injury practice we handle all claims meticulously to identify possible fraud at an early stage. We do this in a number of ways, for instance, checking the Claimant’s account of how the accident occurred by cross referencing available documentation. Often inconsistencies can be found between accounts in the letter of claim, particulars of claim and witness statements which places the Claimant’s credibility under question. Cross examination at trial is also every effective if the Claimant is brave enough to give oral evidence.
Medical records are a vital piece of evidence. In particular, accident and emergency hospital records provide an account of the immediate aftermath of the accident. Often the Claimant fails to realise that a description of how the injury occurred is documented in the records. We recently raised allegations of fraud when defending a tripping claim on behalf of a local authority. The Claimant alleged that he tripped over an obstruction on an adopted path and fractured his ankle. The hospital records revealed that the Claimant had been involved in a fight in the early hours of the morning and attended the hospital in a drunken state. The claim for approximately £45,000 was discontinued.
There are of course many genuine tripping claims. People unfortunate to suffer injury as a result of poorly maintained highways should be able to claim the appropriate compensation under the English civil justice system. Ultimately, we all bear the burden of fraudulent claims through higher taxes so it is in our own interests to tackle this expensive issue.
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