The Courts role in disentangling the truth in Personal Injury Actions
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The recent High Court decision of Ms Justice Niamh Hyland [i] reiterates it is not a matter for a Court to “disentangle” a plaintiff’s claim when it has become entangled due to lies and misrepresentations by the plaintiff. The burden of proof is on a plaintiff to prove that an accident caused or contributed to an injury.
Tomás McDonagh of RDJ LLP, together with Damien Higgins SC and Niall Flynn BL successfully acted for the defendants on the instructions of a large Insurer in the defence of the personal injury proceedings issued by the plaintiff.
The plaintiff issued Circuit Court proceedings seeking damages for personal injury arising from a road traffic accident on 25 March 2015 when the vehicle he was a front seat passenger in, was impacted to the rear by the defendant’s truck at traffic lights when it rolled into the back of the vehicle. The plaintiff was involved in a prior accident on 18 March 2015 when the vehicle he was driving rear ended a vehicle on a motorway at 120km/hr and in which his wife, brother and two children made claims for personal injury. The plaintiff was also involved in a subsequent accident on 23 July 2015 when his vehicle was hit by another vehicle on the Quays in Dublin causing his vehicle to spin around.
The proceedings were initially commenced in the Circuit Court and the plaintiff’s case was dismissed pursuant to Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Coutts Act 2004 by Judge Fergus on 27 November 2020 when the plaintiff had legal representation. The plaintiff appealed the decision without legal representation.
The Court referred to the Supreme Court decision in Vesey v Bus Eireann [ii] where the Court concluded that it was not the responsibility of the trial Judge to “disentangle” the plaintiff’s case when it has become entangled as a result of lies and misrepresentation. The Court held that it could not disentangle the truth and it would only be able to speculate how an accident caused or contributed to an injury.
In addition, the Court also relied on Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. In essence Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 provides for a dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim either where a plaintiff knowingly gives false or misleading evidence or where the Court is satisfied that a person has sworn an affidavit under s.14 of the same Act that is false or misleading in any material respect. It is clear from the legislation the section is mandatory in nature and the section obliges the defendant to establish the plaintiff gave evidence or provided information knowing it was false or misleading.
Counsel on behalf of the defendants applied to strike out the plaintiff’s case on the basis:-
- The plaintiff had not established a prima facie case and failed to discharge the burden of proof on him pursuant to Vesey v Bus Eireann [iii]
- The plaintiff had not disclosed two other accidents giving false replies, swearing a false Affidavit and causing doctors to give misleading evidence and the Court was obliged to dismiss the plaintiff’s case pursuant to Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004.
The Court considered the accidents the plaintiff was involved in and came to the conclusion that the prior accident on 18 March 2015 was a serious accident and the impact must have been significant with the plaintiff attending his GP on the day of the accident and Hospital three days later. The plaintiff’s subsequent accident on 23 July 2015 also required the plaintiff to attend his GP. Neither accident was mentioned in the plaintiff’s proceedings and they were not disclosed in replies to particulars. The Court also reviewed the medical reports, and it was only after June 2019 did the plaintiff’s medical reports refer to the other accidents. This was subsequent to the plaintiff swearing an Affidavit of Discovery and making discovery of medical records which disclosed reference to the other accidents.
The Court held the plaintiff constantly ignored the other accidents in his proceedings and in his interaction with medical practitioners. The Court considered had the plaintiff disclosed the other accidents then it was likely medical evidence could have dealt with the three different accidents and the contribution of each accident to the injuries sustained. Without such medical evidence the Court could not disentangle the truth and the Court would only be able to speculate how the accident the subject of the proceedings caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries particularly where the plaintiff’s other accidents occurred close in time. While the plaintiff believed that the accident the subject of the proceedings caused his injuries, the Court would not award damages based on a belief and concluded the plaintiff failed to discharge the burden of proof that the injury he alleged was caused or contributed to by the accident the subject of the proceedings.
The Court also considered Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim pursuant to Section 26(1) of the Act in circumstances that the plaintiff’s replies to particulars were incorrect and the plaintiff must have known that his first medical report was incomplete. Also, as the Affidavit of Verification in respect of Replies to particulars was also incorrect and the plaintiff must have known that was the case, the Court dismissed the case pursuant to Section 26(2) of the Act.
The Court therefore dismissed the plaintiff’s case.
The decision of Ms Justice Hyland in the High Court is a reminder of the Courts role in adjudicating on proceedings in personal injuries actions which have been entangled due to a plaintiff’s lies and misrepresentations. The burden of proof rests with the plaintiff to prove his injury was caused or contributed by the accident. Where a plaintiff embarks on a course of lies and misrepresentations, not only could the plaintiff’s claim be dismissed pursuant to Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, the plaintiff may also not be able to discharge the burden of proof, as it is not for the Court to disentangle the truth. The Court requires evidence to base an evaluation of how an accident caused or contributed to the injury the plaintiff’s alleges they sustained. This cannot be available to a Court when the plaintiff was not truthful in his pleadings and interaction with medical practitioners.
[i] Khalid -v- Davis & Anor  IEHC 519 https://www.courts.ie/acc/alfresco/644cba13-f33d-48a5-942e-8a28bd310832/2022_IEHC_519.pdf/pdf#view=fitH
[ii]  IESC 93
[iii]  IESC 93