How to avoid personal injury fraud: when a slip could lead to a trip to prison for landlords
It’s a scenario most landlords dread: a tenant claims they were injured due to a poorly maintained property. You have a strong suspicion that they are not telling the truth, but how do you persuade a court of this?
How a fib led to a conviction
For Surrey County Council, a recent personal injury claim from an Ashford resident came full circle when the claimant was caught admitting on Facebook that his wrist was hurt when he slipped on ice after a few drinks, rather than tripping over a raised kerbstone as claimed.
When law firm DWF, acting for Surrey County Council, spotted this admission on the social media site claimant Mr Wootton quickly withdrew his compensation claim, but unfortunately for him the police took an interest in the matter.
Wootton was prosecuted for contempt of court and given a suspended sentence of 12 months in prison. Two friends who witnessed the accident received six month suspended sentences. To add to their woes, the fraudsters were ordered to pay the council’s legal costs.
Andrew Prior, Insurance Manager for Surrey County Council said: “We have a responsibility to all residents when it comes to spending Council Tax payers’ money […] We would strongly urge residents who are contacted by so-called ‘no win, no fee’ personal injury firms to think about the implications of making false claims.”
How to protect yourself against fraudulent claims
Today’s connected world provides many opportunities to catch out fraudulent claimants seeking to exploit landlords and other property owners. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites may appear to be private spaces, but in reality comments can often be read by any other user. Where police suspect fraud, text messages and emails are also sometimes used as evidence.
However, it is not advisable to rely on being able to find this kind of evidence of fraud, as most bogus claimants are not foolish enough to admit their scheme publicly. One important way to avoid fraudulent claims is to select your tenants very carefully. Another important aspect is to ensure that your maintenance and inspection regime is robust.
Choosing tenants carefully
Most of us wouldn’t dream of putting in a legal claim if we simply trip or injure ourselves through clumsiness. However, a certain proportion of tenants will prove to be dishonest, taking any opportunity to claim compensation from their landlords. These are also often the tenants who also fall behind on rent, damage the property and cause problems in general.
To avoid problem tenants, take the time to check them out before agreeing a lease. Whether you do this yourself or use an agent, you should take references, confirm ID and look into employment status. Chatting to tenants can also be useful; listen to your gut instinct about whether someone is trustworthy. During the tenancy, keep lines of communication open and invite them to inform you if remedial work needs to be carried out.
Maintaining your property
A poorly maintained property is a magnet for personal injury claims, whether fraudulent or not. It might be that the tenant is not being honest about the cause of their injury, but a judge is more likely to believe them if the property is shown to be in generally poor repair.
Regular inspections and a sound maintenance regime will help to prevent accidents at your property. When properly documented, they are also good evidence to help you defend a claim alleging your negligence led to an injury. From a legal perspective, you are not expected to ensure that nothing ever breaks or deteriorates at the property; only that reasonable care is taken to reduce risk and prevent harm to others.
Quality insurance is an essential requirement
In the event that a personal injury claim is made against you, you need to know that your insurance provider will provide the support you need. Good insurance starts with the basics: ensuring you know what is covered, what is expected of you and what exceptions and excesses apply to your policy.
When you need to make a claim, a quality insurer will provide prompt, clear and user-friendly service. This helps to reduce the stress and inconvenience of dealing with a personal injury claim. An insurer whose service is substandard, however, will add to the drain on your time and resources and likely leave you with an unsatisfactory outcome.
Would your insurer stand up to the test of a personal injury claim? Why not speak to Stride Direct about your options?