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Bus driver’s brain damage fraud

At a glance

  • Bus driver alleged brain injury after a slip in depot
  • Individual subsequently seen working at son’s car wash
  • Claim was struck out and contempt of court proceedings begin

The case of: Plana v First Capital East, 15.08.13, Central London County Court.

Mr Plana, the claimant, was employed as a bus driver by the defendant, First Capital. In 2007, the defendant was in the process of closing one of its depots in Hackney, London.

As the claimant, who was then in his fifties, helped remove signs from the car park, to store them under the stairwells, he allegedly slipped, suffering (what he said was) a severe brain injury. A colleague later found the claimant unconscious under the stairwell.

Get the facts

  • This ruling again demonstrates the courts’ continued robust support of defendants who justifiably mount a firm stand against fraud.
  • Despite the defendant’s initial admission of primary liability, their later genuine suspicions of fraud resulted in the entire claim being struck out as an abuse of the process of the court.
  • This reiterates that defendants are continually required to be able to distinguish genuine claims from the increasingly inventive guises of fraudulent ones.
  • Where fraud is genuinely suspected, further investigative and remedial steps are justified, including applying to bring proceedings for contempt of court, and seeking repayment of interim awards.

The claimant sought damages from First Capital, alleging negligence and numerous breaches of workplace regulations. He claimed he suffered a head injury which resulted in blackouts almost daily. His bus driver’s licence was revoked and he claimed he would never be able to work again. He said his son, also a bus driver, gave up his job to care for him. Liability was admitted and agreed, on a 90:10 basis, in Mr Plana’s favour.

He was extensively examined by medical experts who found no physical injury, no brain injury and, after a week of tests at an epilepsy centre, no epilepsy. The medical conclusion was that the accident triggered somatoform disorder — a psychological condition where physical pain cannot be traced to any physical cause.

Over the course of five years, First Capital paid interim payments to Mr Plana totalling £125,000. However, becoming suspicious about the legitimacy of the claim, the defendant arranged for surveillance of Mr Plana. The film showed the claimant working in a car wash business of which his son was director, but Mr Plana was in charge.

He was seen actively washing cars, driving, and engaging in physical activities that seriously conflicted with his alleged severe incapacity.

When Mr Plana served an updated schedule claiming approximately £760,000, First Capital responded by sending to Mr Plana’s advisers a counter schedule, a copy of the surveillance footage, and an offer to settle the claim for £10,000.

Mr Plana’s solicitors ceased acting for him. First Capital’s offer was rejected, and so they applied for Mr Plana’s claim to be struck out on the grounds that it was fraudulent. At the hearing, Mr Plana said the footage only showed isolated and innocent occasions when he could work.

The judge rejected Mr Plana’s explanation, ruling his pursuit of his claim was an abuse of process. The judge struck out the claim entirely. He ordered Mr Plana to repay the £125,000 interim payments within 14 days and to pay First Capital’s costs on the indemnity basis. The judge also transferred the case to the High Court for contempt of court proceedings to be brought.

Image © Getty

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