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Insurer succeeds in tort of deceit and contempt of court actions against claimant in landmark Gentry appeal

News And Events24/01/2018

UK Insurance Ltd v Gentry [2018] EWHC 37 (QB)

A key judgment has found the claimant in the case of Gentry v Miller to be both fraudulent and in contempt of court. The tort of deceit and contempt of court actions were brought by Keoghs and Privilege Insurance (UKI), following the Court of Appeal’s previous landmark decision to prioritise court process relating to delay over evidence of fraud. The Court of Appeal agreed a stay of execution on the sums previously awarded to Gentry to give Privilege Insurance the opportunity to prove their assertion that the claim was fraudulent. This judgment on the tort of deceit claim vindicates the stance of Privilege Insurance and Keoghs. Gentry meanwhile has been ordered to repay the entirety of Privilege Insurance’s costs of the action on the indemnity basis and has been given a nine month custodial sentence suspended for two years. The suspension of his sentence is conditional upon the claimant complying with a repayment plan to reimburse the insurer.

Background

The original case of Gentry v Miller and UKI was related to a road traffic accident on 17 March 2013 where the insured, Miller, claimed he had swerved to avoid a deer and collided with Gentry’s vehicle, writing it off.

Whilst the insurer admitted liability, the claimant’s solicitor, Armstrongs, issued proceedings for further damages related to pre-accident value, credit hire and personal injury. Crucially these were sent to Miller but not forwarded onto the insurer. Without the insurer’s knowledge, the case proceeded to a disposal hearing where the claimant was awarded damages of £75,000 together with costs.

At this point the insurer and Keoghs undertook further intelligence checks and uncovered links between Gentry and Miller which were used to mount a fraud defence. It was discovered that the two were partaking in running events together whilst Gentry’s mobile number registered for one of the races was the same number used by Miller to incept his insurance policy. Further searches revealed that the pair worked at the same company prior to the accident and, most damning of all, Miller lived at Gentry’s house both before and after the accident.

Appeals

The initial application to set aside judgment and rely upon a fraud defence was successful but appealed by Armstrongs due to the length of the delay, stating that the insurer was ‘aware’ of proceedings being issued and did nothing. Whilst it was accepted that the insurer had admitted liability and that they were aware there was a hire claim in the offing, they had not received notification of proceedings and were, therefore, waiting for further documentation.

This first appeal was denied at Liverpool High Court but Armstrongs appealed once more, stating that the law had changed by virtue of the case of Denton which resulted in courts taking a tougher stance against delays, prioritising court rules over allegations and evidence of fraud.

This time the Court of Appeal found in favour of the claimant, a decision which has since been relied upon in subsequent cases where fraud evidence has emerged at a late stage in proceedings.

Stay of execution

At this point Keoghs made an application for a stay of execution on the judgment in Mr Gentry’s favour. The Court of Appeal ordered a stay pending the outcome of a tort of deceit action against Mr Gentry at which stage Armstrongs ceased to act for Mr Gentry.

The Keoghs counter-fraud team also issued proceedings for contempt of court against Mr Gentry, citing his witness statement as evidence in which he expressly denied any knowledge or connections to Mr Miller, stating that the insurance company was ‘mischief making’.

Judgment & Sentencing

Mr Gentry accepted that he had lied in his witness statement and that he was therefore guilty of contempt. However, he continued to maintain that the collision was a genuine accident and disputed the tort of deceit claim. As a consequence, the deceit claim proceeded to a two day trial in which Mr Gentry refused to give evidence himself but did call late evidence from his alleged passenger Mr Voller. Mr Voller in his evidence said Mr Gentry made no reference to him knowing the other driver at the time of the collision.

In his judgment Mr Justice Teare found that the insurer had proven their allegations of deceit and that the accident was staged. Mr Gentry was described as a “bold liar” who had constructed a false account of how he came to know Mr Miller after the accident when initially confronted with the insurer’s evidence.

In reaching his decision Mr Justice Teare said: “The only credible explanation for the steps both drivers took to hide their friendship is that they knew that it was a staged collision and that to reveal they were friends would give the game away... I have the required very high level of confidence that the allegation is true and I am not left in any doubt as to what happened”.

The insurer was awarded damages in respect of the sums they had paid out in the early stages of the claim, together with costs on the indemnity basis for the initial action brought by Mr Gentry and the tort of deceit and contempt of court proceedings.

Following judgment, Mr Gentry was sentenced for contempt of court. The nature of his offence was said to clearly pass the threshold for a custodial sentence. Although some credit was given for his early guilty plea on the contempt charge, this was negated by the fact he continued to dispute the tort of deceit action, thus prolonging the litigation and further escalating costs.

Mr Gentry was sentenced to nine months imprisonment to be suspended for two years subject to his compliance with a payment plan in respect of the sums owed to Privilege Insurance.

Following the judgment, Keoghs Associate Solicitor, Hamida Khatun, commented;

“Given our client’s reserves had risen to over £300,000, it was absolutely vital that we received a fair judgment. It was also crucial for the insurance industry as a whole given the increasing cases we were seeing based on the precedent set by the Gentry appeal. As a result we are absolutely delighted with the result of the trial, and hope that this sees common sense prevail with regards the application of rules related to delay.”

Mark Chiappino, Counter Fraud Manager for Privilege Insurance, said;

“We are very satisfied with the nine month prison sentence Mr Gentry has received. This judgment underlines our commitment to a zero tolerance policy against those, who through dishonest behaviour, attempt to obtain money that they are not entitled to. We have a highly trained Counter Fraud team to protect our innocent policyholders from this type of activity. Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime and is estimated to add £50 a year to the average household insurance bill and we will not hesitate to use the full weight of the law against those attempting to defraud.”