On 16 September 2016 the Plaintiff was involved in motor vehicle accident that was not her fault and claimed damages from the CTP insurer for the vehicle at fault. The insurer alleged the Plaintiff had not suffered a compensable injury as a result of the accident. The matter was heard in the District Court over 4 days in February and March 2020.
As a result of the accident the Plaintiff was taken to hospital by ambulance where she was alert and able to describe the accident. She began to develop neurological systems including inability to straighten her hand on day 3 and on day 6 her left foot turned inwards preventing her from walking. The hospital performed extensive testing but could not ascertain a physical reason for her condition, eventually diagnosing a psychiatric condition of conversion disorder, without the diagnosis being made by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The Plaintiff remained in hospital for 14 weeks.
Prior to the accident the Plaintiff cared for her elderly father. After discharge she claimed she was confined to a wheelchair or walker and could not care for herself nor her father, requiring assistance from her daughter. The Plaintiff gave evidence at the hearing of her permanent inability to walk and use her left hand. The Plaintiff claimed past care and out of pocket expenses.
The pieces of the puzzle that unravelled the Plaintiff’s whole case are:
- The insurer tendered video surveillance depicting the Plaintiff driving, walking without impairment or aid and using her left hand whilst shopping. When questioned about this she indicated her disabilities varied and she had “good days and bad days” and that her condition had deteriorated since the footage was taken.
- The Plaintiff’s own sister-in-law gave evidence that she had seen her mobilising and using her left hand without issue on at least 15 occasions including dancing at a wedding and holding a baby.
- Photographs from Facebook showed the Plaintiff standing without issue.
- The Plaintiff had an extensive criminal record involving offences for dishonesty including a stealing incident after the motor vehicle accident which did not indicate any disability. When questioned about this she said she had a walking stick. The admission by the Plaintiff of using a walking stick after the accident, was relied on by the Judge to find that the Plaintiff “was not disabled as she alleges at the time of the shoplifting offence” and “is fatal to her claim for past care” which then disentitled her to past out of pocket expenses.
- Evidence was tendered about a previous motor vehicle accident claim that was settled for a small sum where the Plaintiff claimed damages for identical injures to the opposite side of her body and where video footage also contradicted those injuries.
- The Plaintiff attended 2 general practitioner surgeries, one set of notes corroborated her evidence while the second contained no record of the accident or her disabilities at all. The Judge inferred the supporting set of notes were part of the Plaintiff’s “fraudulent scheme.”
- The medical reports relied on by the Plaintiff similarly cast doubt on her disabilities with two stating she may be “malingering” which is a polite way of saying, pretending.
- As the Plaintiff had not sought treatment from a psychologist or psychiatrist for a psychiatric condition that manifested physical injuries, that is the conversion disorder, the Judge found that the Plaintiff was “feigning her injures.”
In a hearing most personal injury solicitors would loved to have watched, the evidence piece by piece removed any credibility the Plaintiff may have had. The Judge stated when rejecting the Plaintiff evidence “I do not accept that the plaintiff’s statements of her disabilities were truthful at any stage of the narrative, from accident to witness box.” The Judge determined that the Plaintiff’s “lies were part of an organised plan designed to deceitfully obtain monies to which she was not entitled” and waste hospital resources. The Judge granted indemnity costs to the insurer, pending any submissions by the Plaintiff and directed the registrar of the Court to forward the papers to Police to consider “whether criminal offences may have been committed by the plaintiff in relation to the commencement and maintenance of the proceedings, including her affirmed evidence in the Court.”
The case highlights why those involved in personal injury proceedings need to honestly report their symptoms, otherwise, they risk hefty costs orders being made against them and criminal investigations.