The recent Court of Appeal judgment of Platt v OBH Luxury Accommodation Limited & Anor [2017 IECA 221] concerned an exaggerated claim and the Plaintiff was found to have lied.
Mr Jason Platt, (known as the plaintiff) had travelled to Kinsale for a Valentine’s weekend break and he and his partner were staying at the Old Bank House, Pearse St, Kinsale where he claims the accident took place on February 15, 2009. The plaintiff alleged he fell from a windowsill in a room in the defendant’s hotel. As a result, his ribs, spine and hip were severely damaged. Mr Platt had sued OBH Luxury Accommodation Ltd with offices at Pearse St, Kinsale and company director Ciaran Fitzgerald.
Nevertheless, the hotel owners contended that Mr Platt threw himself from the window of his guestroom following a heated argument with fiancée.
Mr Platt sought compensation for his injuries and was presented through his testimonies as a poor man suffering chronic pain and discomfort. The plaintiff had also submitted under oath, an affidavit verifying a schedule of special damages and future loss claiming almost £1.5 million. It became apparent that he was found to have intentionally deceived the court and overstated the level of his agony and the degree of his incapacitation.
Regardless of finding the Defendants 60% responsible, Barton J. discharged the Plaintiff’s claim after video evidence submerged of him going shopping, driving, carrying bags, and walking unassisted. (a clear disparity to the testimony from the Plaintiff who emphasized how extremely incapacitated he was as the Plaintiff had previously specified that he was now duty bound to use a wheelchair, crutches or a commode.)
Court of Appeal:
Irvine J. dismissed the appeal, relying on Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 to discharge the whole claim.
The Court of Appeal specified that the 2004 Act was designed to ensure that incorrect or deceptive declarations, accusations or evidence would “not lightly be tolerated”.
Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004:
Section 26 states:
“If, after the commencement of this section, a plaintiff in a personal injuries action gives or adduces, or dishonestly causes to be given or adduced, evidence that—
(a) is false or misleading, in any material respect, and
(b) he or she knows to be false or misleading,
the court shall dismiss the plaintiff’s action unless, for reasons that the court shall state in its decision, the dismissal of the action would result in injustice being done.”
Barton J stated, the standard of proof that is essential to effectively appeal Section 26 was the balance of probability, nonetheless the seriousness of the matter being alleged must be taken on board as well as the gravity of the issue and the consequences in considering the evidence essential to discharge the onus of proof.
Importantly, it was verified by the court that if a Section 26 application is successful the entire claim must fail. This was confirmed in Meehan v BKNS Curtain Walling Systems Ltd.  IEHC 441. Irvine J. went on to state that “the plain and ordinary meaning of the words make clear that if the evidence is false and misleading in a material respect “the action” shall be dismissed. The section is simply incapable of any other construction”.
Secondly, before dismissing a claim under Section 26 the Court must also look at the consequences for the plaintiff where a claim is discharged under Section 26.
However, although adverse penalties must not be the only influence considered, the Court continued that it can be considered amongst other relevant factors. A failure by a court to do so would conflict against the Court’s obligations to interpret legislation in accordance with the legitimate principles of fairness and proportionality.
Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal maintained that the finding of Barton J. in the High Court was correct. The Court of Appeal agreed with the defence that a claim such as this was “indeed the type of case the Oireachtas had in mind when the (Section 26) legislation was enacted”.
This is a very significant judgement.
Firstly, it reiterates the transparency of the law. If a Plaintiff is found to have exaggerated his or her claim, the entire case will be dismissed and he or she may be prosecuted.
Dismissing a fraudulent claim like this is a victory for the defendants and insurers. As a result, the compensation money that would have gone to the plaintiff, can now be used to compensate the numerous honest victims of personal injury when required.
Moreover, any claim that goes in favour of the injured party has been supported by comprehensive medical records, expert reports, widespread evidence and cross examination.
It is hoped the courts judgement will mark the beginning of a change in attitude from the courts when considering Section 26 applications in the future.
BY COLLEEN WARD – TRAINEE SOLICITOR