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Archive for July, 2010

The customer is always right

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

There’s an old saying in business that the customer is always right.  You can see why it was coined, upset your customer, say goodbye to business, the logic seems undeniable.  However, as legal agents, are we able to be that flexible?  There’s no real problem when Mrs Gruttock insists on surrounding her lawn with daffodils when the gardener thinks shrubs will be more effective.  However, when we are asked to undertake tasks we have a responsibility to the courts as well as to our clients so it is a bit different.

Over the years we have been asked to check evidence submitted to the courts by our client’s opponents – usually sketch plans and photographs.  I’ve no doubt that there are occasions when someone on the “other side” queries our work and that is fine with me as we only submit evidence that is honest regardless of whether it suits one party more than the other.  Basically it is a “What we see is what you get” situation.

Sadly there are instances where what we are shown from other sources is definitely not what you would see at the site.  The usual discrepancies relate to distance which can be crucial where speed and visibility are factors in the case.  I’ve seen distances “shortened” by the use of a telephoto lens on the camera and then underestimated on the sketch plan.  It is only a sketch plan after all so nobody should expect 100% accuracy but a 50% discrepancy (seen a few years back) is stretching things too far.  Quite recently I realised that a plan showed a line of vision that did not exist.  I had reason to talk to the person who had prepared the plan (not one of our agents I would stress) and was told “That’s what my clients wanted”.  I suggested that doctoring a plan to mislead was hardly honest and to do it and sign the declaration on the paperwork was asking for trouble.  I could cite many more examples but will not bore you with them.

We take the view that we should tell our client exactly what is at an accident scene.  Some may suggest that anything unhelpful should not be conveyed to the client but if we don’t tell them the other side certainly will.  Worse still if that damaging information comes to light in the course of a court hearing where the judge might gain the impression that evidence had been suppressed.  If a lawyer is on a conditional or fixed fee case he/she wants to run a good solid case so weaknesses need to be exposed sooner rather than later – if the litigant is proven to be a liar in court it is not going to reflect well on the team that has been supporting that individual.  Costs allocation can be an effective form of “punishment” as we all know.

So, is the customer always right in any situation?  Claims handlers pay us to report to them and we endeavour to do so as accurately as possible – why pay for information and then ignore it?  At the end of the day we are trying to help our clients make an informed decision and if that is to tell a litigant his case is flawed or recommend to an insurer that a claim should be paid then so be it.  I am pleased to say that, fortunately, most of our investigations support our clients and then we are all happy!

Staged Accidents

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Driving along the dual carriageway on your way home from work, you’re travelling at a reasonable speed, keeping your distance from the vehicle in front and following a route you have done so many times before, but tonight is going to be different, tonight you are going to be involved in a staged accident.

A car overtakes you and pulls in front of you, instead of speeding up and pulling away however, they start to gradually slow.  Becoming frustrated you look in your mirror for an opportunity to pull out and overtake, but by now other vehicles are passing you.

As you approach a slip road to the left one of the overtaking vehicles passes you and the car in front before cutting across their path very sharply to take the exit.  The car in front brakes hard, you brake too but there is nothing you can do and you can’t avoid rear ending the vehicle in front.  You have probably just been involved in a staged accident, but did you realise this?

How about another situation where you are waiting to join a roundabout?  Visibility is good and when the vehicle in front moves off you see that you should have no problem entering the roundabout too.  Just before you cross the give way lines you make a final check to the right and everything is still clear, you look back in the direction you are heading and in horror realise that the car in front has stopped dead for no apparent reason.  You brake, but are far too close to avoid a collision.  The other driver quickly gets out and says aggressively to you “Didn’t you see the motorcycle that came round the roundabout very quickly?”  Well did you?  Of course you didn’t, because they didn’t exist and once again you have been involved in a staged accident.

In both of these cases it would appear that you are totally to blame as you simply cannot go round driving into the back of other cars in most circumstances.  Your insurers will receive a claim for the damage to the other vehicle, a claim for personal injury to the other driver and probably passengers (some of whom might not have even been in the vehicle), along with a claim for hiring a replacement vehicle.  In total if the claim is successful this will net the fraudsters many thousands of pounds, but will your insurer realise what has happened?

Insurers are generally very alert to fraudulent and staged accidents and will frequently instruct a firm of experienced motor accident investigators like Geoden Agency to carry out staged accident investigations to try and uncover the truth, potentially allowing a claim to be rejected and possibly even leading to criminal proceedings against the gang of fraudsters.

If you think you have been involved in a staged accident and your insurers don’t seem to be taking notice of your concerns, then Geoden Agency might be able to assist you.  There is some motor claims advice on the Geoden Agency website and they will be happy to carry out further investigations in the hope of producing evidence which can be provided to your insurers to assist your case.