Solicitors who handle what eventually turn out to be set-up accidents may be contributing to fraudulent personal injury claims, a judge said in what is the strongest criticism yet by the judiciary of some members of the legal profession.
“Perhaps some solicitors should be a bit more selective about who they take on,” Judge Jacqueline Linnane stated in the Circuit Civil Court when dismissing five fraudulent damages claims for up to €300,000 by London members of the Travelling community allegedly on a sightseeing tour of Dublin.
The judge directed that all of the evidence brought together in five files by legal and investigative staff of RSA Insurance Ireland, who carried out a major investigation into the claims, be forwarded to the DPP.
It is estimated that 20% of all insurance claims are fraudulent. However, despite the high volume of fake and illegal claims, gardaí have revealed they have received just 50 reports of alleged fraud since last October.
Judge Linnane said none of these cases would proceed to court unless solicitors agreed to act in them and she felt that some committee within the Law Society might be concerned about it.
“Maybe fuller inquiries should be made by solicitors before they take on these cases but I will leave it to RSA whether they wish to instruct their legal representatives to bring it to the attention of the Law Society,” Judge Linnane told Moira Flahive, counsel for the insurance firm.
Judge Linnane said P Tiernan and Co, of 9 Crowe St, Dundalk, Co Louth, solicitors for the five claimants, had not turned up in court for the application by RSA to have all of the cases dismissed but had only on Tuesday evening phoned a barrister to appear without explicit instructions or papers.
She said RSA’s applications had not been challenged in what were undisputed fraudulent claims.
P Tiernan and Co had obviously decided these cases were dead ducks and in light of what had been deposed on affidavit by solicitor David Culleton, they did not intend wasting any money on them.
The judge said affidavits of Mr Culleton of DAC Beachcroft Solicitors, on behalf of RSA and outlining the fraud behind each of the claims, made devastating reading. He believed a number of accidents associated with the claims before the court and the claims arising from them bore all the hallmarks of a sustained pattern of organised insurance fraud.
Joseph Stokes, a 22-year-old gardener; John O’Donnell, 33, and Melissa McDonagh, 26, all of 27 Lynton Close, London; John Christopher McDonagh, aged 26, of 5 Lynton Close, and Bridget Mongan, aged 31, of 15 Waterford Way, Dollis Hill, London, had all claimed €60,000 each in relation to alleged whiplash injuries they claimed to have suffered in an accident in May 2015 near Sutton Road, Howth, Dublin.
Judge Linnane said from the affidavit of Mr Culleton, it was clear the accident and other accidents and people closely associated with the plaintiffs were part of a sustained pattern of organised insurance fraud.
Robert Marsland, Church View, Knockagorna, Omeath, Co Louth, owner and driver of the second car involved in the May 2015 accident, was also named as a defendant in the five cases before the court but did not appear.
Ms Flahive said Mr Marsland was a named driver on a policy which expired just over two weeks after the Howth accident. Ownership of the car he was driving had been transferred into his name only one day before the accident and indemnity by the insurance company had been declined.
She said Mr Culleton’s affidavit revealed Mr Marsland had denied having been involved in any other accidents but this had turned out to be untrue as he had been involved in accidents in January 2015 and July 2014.
Judge Linnane said fraud was a fact in the case and had not been denied. She said the five plaintiffs had stated they had been on a sight-seeing trip to Dublin. It was clear they had travelled from London to stage the accident in Dublin.