In a case described as 'a classic illustration of when the appeal court ought not to seek to go behind the careful findings made by the trial judge', the High Court has dismissed an appeal against a county court ruling on the grounds of fundamental dishonesty. The Honourable Mrs Justice Stacey upheld a recorder’s decision that, while a claim had apparently exaggerated the costs of a road traffic accident, the claimant himself had been ‘perplexed’ by the damages being sought.
The appeal in Michael v I E & D Hurford Ltd (t/a Rainbow) was brought by the responsible driver and insurance company against a 2020 judgment in Leeds County Court. In that decision, the judge had awarded £3,624.18 to Luul Michael despite the defendant’s argument that claims for physiotherapy and credit hire amounted to fundamental dishonesty.
However Mr Recorder Cameron found that the claim had been drawn up by solicitors and the claimant, for whom English was a second language, was 'clearly unfamiliar' with parts of his witness statement and… 'confused by the procedure adopted by this court'. In court he ‘happily volunteered’ unhelpful information, including that he had attended only one physiotherapy session rather than the eight claimed for.
The defendants appealed to the Queen’s Bench Division on the grounds that the recorder had been wrong not to decide fundamental dishonesty. The case also raised ’an interesting point of law about the distinction between a dishonest claim and a dishonest claimant’.
Sitting in Leeds Combined Court Centre, Mrs Justice Stacey found that the recorder had been 'entitled to conclude that if there had been dishonesty it was not on the part of the respondent'. She observed that in the 'troubling aspects' of the claim, such as the physiotherapy and credit hire claim, the money would have been paid to the claimant’s solicitors.
'It is too bold a submission to assert that an inaccurate pleading or defective disclosure statement is synonymous with the respondent’s fundamental dishonesty,' she ruled. 'If the defendant solicitors consider that potential dishonesty lies with a claimant’s solicitor and not their client then surely their attention is better directed at the solicitor firms, rather than the hapless client who has instructed them?'
Dismissing the appeal, she said: 'This is a classic illustration of when the appeal court ought not to seek to go behind the careful findings made by the trial judge who has had the benefit of hearing and seeing the witness and reaching his own conclusion.'
William Poole, instructed by DAC Beachcroft Claims Ltd appeared for the appellants; the claimant was not represented and did not appear.