horwich farrelly

Horwich Farrelly and LV= strike blow against Asons Solicitors

October, 3, 2017

Horwich Farrelly and insurer LV= have dealt a blow to so-called ‘professional enablers’ after a judge ruled a claimant solicitor had made “gross failures” in handling a personal injury claim in which key documents were found to contain forged signatures.

The conduct of Bolton-based Asons Solicitors – which was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority earlier this year – was described as “improper, unreasonable and negligent” after a judge heard the firm had handled a claim made to insurer LV= without verifying the claimant was genuinely providing instructions.

In addition, the judge found evidence that Asons were “guilty of backdating (falsifying) correspondence to disguise non-compliance with court timetabling”.

At the trial, which was heard over five days between 19-26 July and 11 September 2017 at Nottingham County Court, Judge Godsmark QC also ruled that Haroon Karim, Director of the claims management company that had referred the claim to Asons, was guilty of deliberately forging the claimant’s signature on a number of documents.

As a result, 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.

The ruling, handed down earlier today, is the culmination of almost two years of legal proceedings, led by Horwich Farrelly Associate, Alex Wilkinson.

Background

The action arose out of a £3,000 claim for whiplash made by Mr Nitin Trehan, following an accident in Nottingham in July 2012. After Mr Trehan took his vehicle in for repairs, he contacted Mr Adeel Karim, an individual who had assisted him in relation to an earlier accident. Adeel Karim passed on details of the accident to his brother, Mr Haroon Karim, a Director of Nottingham-based Accident Claims Assistant Ltd (ACA). Haroon Karim sold the claim to Asons Solicitors, who subsequently submitted a claim to LV=.

Fountain pen and handwriting

There was strong evidence the claimant’s signatures had been forged according to analysis by a handwriting expert

The matter reached trial on 19 September 2014, however, with the claimant failing to attend court the claim was dismissed and Mr Trehan was ordered to pay LV=’s costs of £7,744.48. When the insurer sought to enforce the costs order against Mr Trehan, he professed to know nothing about the claim brought in his name.

Subsequently Mr Trehan launched proceedings to have the costs order set aside and for Asons to be responsible for the costs. In response, Asons argued they had had very limited contact with the claimant and that liability lay with Haroon Karim, the director of the referral company, ACA. As a result both Asons and Mr Karim were joined into the proceedings.

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.

The Trial

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.

Further, the judge found: –

  • no evidence of any correspondence between Asons and Mr Trehan;
  • no signed funding agreement; and
  • no evidence that Asons had taken any steps to confirm the identity of their supposed client, in breach of anti-money laundering regulations.

In court Mr Karim revealed he referred up to 24 claims a month to various solicitors, being paid £500 + VAT for each one. The court also heard that Karim had been involved in a dozen claims-related companies which had been liquidated between 2013-16, and that he was currently operating as a credit hire operator.

Stack of paperwork

Judge Godsmark QC found a range of inconsistencies in Asons’ files

In his judgment, Judge Godsmark described Karim as an “evasive” and “unsatisfactory” witness and said that “there were aspects of his evidence which were not credible”.

It was found that Haroon Karim had forged Mr Trehan’s signatures on the Claim Form, Particulars of Claim and Schedule of Special Damage. He also found that his brother, Adeel Karim, had forged Mr Trehan’s signature on a Part 18 Response and on an Authority to Discontinue.

Although Judge Godsmark found Asons had been deceived by Haroon Karim, he condemned the firm for their “gross failure” to carry out basic identity checks on their client, and failing to have any direct contact with him.

The Ruling & Commentary

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 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 that Asons and Mr Karim were jointly liable to pay LV=’s costs.

Ronan McCann, Partner at Horwich Farrelly, 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, Director of Fraud LV= General Insurance said:

“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.”

Whilst Accident Claims Assistant Ltd was dissolved in 2013, Haroon Karim remains a director of a credit hire company, Easy Go Hire Ltd, which is still trading.

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