Claimant handed immediate custodial sentence for exaggerating her clinical negligence claim
11th April 2019
The High Court in Elder v George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust imposed a custodial sentence upon a Claimant who had exaggerated her injuries and made false statements in the context of a clinical negligence claim in which she sought to recover more than £2m.
Lesley Elder pursued a clinical negligence claim against the George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust in respect of the unnecessary performance of vaginal mesh surgery in 2010. She sought to recover damages in excess of £2m on the basis that the surgery left her in constant pain and essentially rendered her disabled. In particular, the Claimant alleged that she was unable to work or to walk unaided, and that she required assistance with routine tasks.
The Trust admitted liability in respect of the surgery but disputed the level of damages claimed. Suspicions were raised after the Claimant was observed at a party in Ibiza and the Trust subsequently obtained surveillance evidence which showed her walking unaided, lifting her grandson and visiting the shops. The evidence demonstrated that the Claimant had exaggerated the impact of the surgery and made persistent false statements regarding the extent of her injuries and disabilities.
The substantive claim was heard in 2016 and the Claimant was awarded damages in the region of £120,000. The trial Judge considered the surveillance evidence and concluded that the Claimant’s claim was dishonest to the criminal standard, stating: “…important elements of this case represented a determined attempt by the Claimant to extract several million pounds from the NHS by way of a claim that, although founded on a proper and indeed unanswerable complaint, nevertheless was inflated beyond all reason…the Claimant’s evidence was, in part, dishonest, and in part, grossly exaggerated…Absent the surveillance evidence, a terrible injustice would have been done to the NHS”.
Following the trial of the substantive claim, the Trust pursued committal proceedings against the Claimant and, at a hearing in the High Court last week, the Judge concluded that whilst the Claimant was genuinely injured as a result of the admitted negligence, her case was marred by “extensive and widespread exaggeration and lies” which had been made for the purpose of recovering substantial sums from a publicly funded body. The Judge further held that in view of the severity of the Claimant’s contempt of Court, an immediate custodial sentence was appropriate and she was accordingly jailed for 5 months.
The decision in Elder demonstrates the firm stance taken by the Courts in response to the fraudulent exaggeration of clinical negligence claims. The decision, which is the second of its kind, also unequivocally demonstrates the severe consequences for Claimants who attempt to defraud the NHS of significant sums of public funds which are desperately needed for frontline services.
In response to the judgment, NHS Resolution’s Chief Executive, Helen Vernon, stated: “fraudulent claims for compensation against the NHS take money away from patient care. We are pleased that the seriousness of this case has been recognised by the courts. NHS Resolution is committed to compensating genuine Claimants fairly but this case highlights the likely consequences for anyone who tries to pursue a dishonest or exaggerated claim.”
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