Grossly Exaggerated Claims - Can The Court Strike Out For Abuse Of Process?

Rule 3.4 of the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”) enables the court to strike out the whole or part of a statement of case which discloses no reasonable grounds for bringing or defending a claim (CPR 3.4(2)(a) ), or which is an abuse of the process of the court or otherwise likely to obstruct the just disposal of the proceedings (CPR 3.4(2)(b))

In the case of Abela v Hammonds Suddards ChD 2/12/2008 the court held that it was important that there should not be a “mini trial” that would usurp the function of the trial judge and lead to potentially unsafe conclusions being reached on the documents only without the aid of cross-examination. If, on an appropriate detailed analysis, the allegations in issue could be seen with confidence to be without substance, then they should be struck out.

As in the above case, most strike out applications are made prior to trial, with a view to saving the costs of a full trial. However, this is not always the case.

In the case of Fairclaough Homes Limited v Summer 2012 (UKSC 26) a strike out application was made after trial, but before final assessment of damages.

The facts of this case were that the respondent had been injured in an accident at work and issued a claim against the appellant employer for negligence and/or breach of duty. The County Court decided in the respondent’s favour when determining liability. A costs order was made, and the Defendant paid £10,000 on account of an assessment of damages which was to take place later. However, the appellant (defendant) suspected that the Claimant was not as injured as he had claimed, and that he had hoodwinked the medical experts. They put him under video surveillance which was subsequently disclosed and showed he had grossly exaggerated the effect of his injuries and his incapacity to work. The appellant applied to strike out the proceedings on the grounds that the claim was tainted by fraud and amounted to an abuse of process. Both the court of first instance and the Court of Appeal held that they were bound by authority to refuse the application.

It was unanimously held by the Supreme Court that, although the Court had jurisdiction to strike the claim out as an abuse of process, it would not be proportionate or just to do so in this case. Despite authority that a claimant could not be deprived of damages to which he is otherwise entitled on the ground that he was guilty of an abuse of process, express language of the Civil Procedure Rules supported a jurisdiction to strike out a claim for abuse of process even if doing so would defeat a substantive claim. The only restriction was that the court must decide cases in accordance with the overriding objective of determining cases justly. In the present case the respondent did suffer significant injury as a result of the appellant’s breach of duty. This being said, the damages which the respondent (claimant) had once quantified at over £800,000 were reduced to £88,000 odd and those damages were themselves subject to substantial deductions in repaying benefits which he had claimed.

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