The former Asons Solicitors — which was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority earlier this year and ceased trading — and a Nottingham-based claims management company have been ordered to pay £40,000 to insurer LV= after a court ruled they had made serious errors in the case.
Judge Godsmark QC, at Nottingham County Court, found that the Churchgate solicitors had handled a claim made to LV= without confirming the identity of their supposed client and falsified dates on some letters.
At the trial, which was heard over five days between July and September, the judge also ruled that Haroon Karim, director of the company — Accident Claims Assistant Ltd (ACA) — that had referred the claim to Asons, was guilty of deliberately forging the claimant’s signature on a number of documents.
In his ruling, Judge Godsmark said: “That a solicitors practice can purport to act for a client they have never met or had direct contact with is startling.
“That those solicitors feel able to commence litigation on behalf of an individual they have never met or had direct contact with, without any funding arrangement in place, is frankly appalling. When I add to that the manner in which the litigation was pursued with falsification of the dates of letters, also to deceive, the picture is deeply disturbing.”
The judge ruled both parties were jointly liable to pay LV=’s costs of defending the action, which are estimated to be in the region of £40,000.
However, it has not been confirmed who LV= will pursue for the money, as Asons Solicitors is no longer trading.
The action arose out of a £3,000 claim for whiplash made by Nitin Trehan, following an accident in Nottingham in July 2012.
After details of the accident were passed to Mr Karim, he sold the claim to Asons, who subsequently submitted a claim to LV=.
The claim was dismissed at court in 2014 and Mr Trehan, who did not attend that trial, was ordered to pay LV=’s costs of more than £7,000.
But when the insurer sought to enforce the costs order, Mr Trehan said he knew nothing of the claim brought in his name.
He then launched proceedings to have the costs order set aside and for Asons to be made responsible for paying the money back.
Asons, which was represented by the Hill Dickinson law firm in the trial, argued that they had had very limited contact with the claimant and that liability instead lay with Mr Karim.
Examination by a handwriting expert of documents including the claim form, the particulars of claim and an authority to release medical records concluded there was strong evidence Mr Trehan’s signatures had been forged.
During the trial, the judge found a range of inconsistencies in Asons’ file, expressing ‘grave reservations as to whether the dates on file copy letters can be relied upon’, and photocopies of documents in which the claimant’s signature had potentially been cut and pasted.
He also found no evidence of any correspondence between Asons and Mr Trehan and no evidence that Asons had taken any steps to confirm his identity, which is a breach of anti-money laundering regulations.
Although Judge Godsmark found Asons had been deceived by Mr Karim, he condemned the firm for their ‘gross failure’ to carry out basic identity checks.
Horwich Farrelly law firm partner Ronan McCann, who represented LV= , said: “This ruling highlights the shoddy practices of Asons Solicitors who appeared to make numerous attempts to conceal their previously negligent handling of the claim.
“The ruling that Haroon Karim forged signatures on documents and is jointly liable to pay LV=’s costs sends a clear message to professional enablers that insurers will not stop in their efforts to stamp out fraudulent claims”.
Clare Lunn, LV=’s director of fraud, added: “This is a significant win. For too long corrupt lawyers, medical experts and other professional enablers have tried to evade justice by hiding behind a veneer of respectability.
“LV= will now recover our costs from Asons Solicitors and Mr Karim and not the innocent third party, who could easily have been burdened with the cost allowing Asons and Karim to walk away scot-free.
“As an industry, we need to continue to take a tough stance against such conduct which will act as a deterrent to stop such practices.”
Hill Dickinson was contacted by The Bolton News for a comment on behalf of Asons.
The Churchgate law firm hit the headlines last year when it was revealed that it had received a controversial £300,000 grant from Bolton Council to refurbish its offices.
That money was repaid after the firm ceased trading as Asons in March and became Coops Law, which was also later shut down by the SRA.
An SRA spokesman confirmed that its investigations into the firm are ongoing.