A Circuit Court judge has said solicitors who handle cases in what eventually turn out to be set-up accidents may be contributing to fraudulent personal injury claims.
In what is possibly the strongest criticism yet by the judiciary of some members of the legal profession, Judge Jacqueline Linnane said some solicitors should be a bit more selective about who they take on.
The judge made the comments after directing that files relating to five cases she dismissed as fraudulent be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
She said it was clear the plaintiffs had travelled from London to Dublin to stage an accident. An investigation by the insurance company RSA showed the accident and the claimants were part of a "sustained pattern of organised insurance fraud".
The judge also suggested that the insurance company should consider contacting the Law Society. She said none of the cases would proceed to court unless solicitors agreed to act in them. Some committee within the Law Society might be concerned about it, she said.
"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 barrister Moira Flahive, counsel for the insurance firm.
Judge Linnane said P Tiernan and Company, of 9 Crowe Street, 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 that affidavits of Mr Culleton of DAC Beachcroft Solicitors, on behalf of RSA and outlining the fraud behind each of the five claims, made devastating reading. He believed that a number of accidents associated with the claims before the court and the claims arising from them bore all of 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, 26, of 5 Lynton Close and Bridget Mongan, 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 that 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 motor policy which expired just over two weeks after the Howth accident. Ownership of the car he was driving at the time 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 that 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 19 July 2014.
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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.
The judge said that media reports about set-up claims were sometimes followed by criticism in newspaper articles about solicitors contributing to this and perhaps some solicitors should be a bit more selective about who they take on, because maybe they were contributing to this sort of fraud.
Judge Linnane said some solicitors did not even say in correspondence that they had tried to contact their client without success or had been unable to get instructions from their clients.She said the evidence of Mr Culleton in the case of Joseph Stokes had been mirrored in the other four cases which were identical.
Ms Flahive said there had been enormous costs involved in RSA's investigation into the accident and the background relating to other people and other accidents and she applied for a costs order against all of the plaintiffs which was granted.
The judge dismissed all of the claims and directed that the papers in all of the cases be sent to the DPP. Ms Flahive said she had not received any instructions with regard to reporting the matter to the Law Society but would discuss it with the insurance company.
None of the claimants or Robert Marsland appeared in court.
In a statement this afternoon, P. Tiernan & Co. Solicitors said: "We received a letter from DAC Beachcroft on the 31st October 2018 which suggested fraud on the part of the Plaintiffs.
"We spoke to the Plaintiffs in relation to this and advised them we were no longer willing to act on their behalf. We advised the Plaintiffs to discontinue the action but they indicated they were instructing another firm of Solicitors to act on their behalf.
"Accordingly we wrote to DAC Beachcroft on 2nd November 2018 advising that we were no longer acting in the matter and that other Solicitors would be coming on record. We also wrote to each of the Plaintiffs confirming that we were no longer acting on their behalf due to the allegations being made by the Defendant's Solicitors in respect of the matter.
"In response to an enquiry from DAC Beachcroft on the 6th February 2019, we again confirmed we were not acting for the Plaintiffs in these matters. This position was reiterated by us in a telephone conversation on 8th April 2019, having been informed that day by our former clients that they instructed a new firm of Solicitors.
"It was in those circumstances that we did not apply to formally come off record as we fully expected a new firm of Solicitors to come on record. We asked a Barrister to attend court today as a matter of courtesy to the Court. We had expected the Plaintiffs new Solicitors to be in attendance and to come on record.
"The firm P. Tiernan & Co Solicitors does not act in cases involving claims of a fraudulent nature."