Concern raised over basic hire rates

Concerns have been raised over the manner in which solicitors are providing evidence of vehicle rental rates (known as Basic Hire Rates) in disputed car accidents, according to a report published today.

Concern over the honesty of evidence submitted in 61% of 196 court cases has been raised, a figure that the report’s author feels ‘could be just the tip of the iceberg’.

The findings have been published six years after the multi-million pound Autofocus fraud first shook the insurance industry and puts the spotlight on the obligations and resolve of solicitors to check the evidence they commission, pay for and present in court on behalf of their insurer clients. It also brings into focus the motivation of the new breed of rate experts filling the space left by Autofocus.

Evidence of basic hire rate is used by solicitors to persuade a court to award damages of a lesser figure than the credit hire amount claimed by the motorist who was the innocent party in the disputed car accident.

The review of 196 witness statements made by a number of different ‘rate experts’ and filed by defendant solicitors over a 120-day period from June 10 to October 8, 2015, was commissioned by Accident Exchange, subsidiary of Automotive & Insurance Solutions Group plc.

In 23% of cases investigated, it was identified that critical elements relating to the basic hire rate evidence served were actively supressed with the likelihood that, as a result, the innocent motorist would have been denied 50% of the true value of his or her claim.

In 42% of cases, the evidence relied on information purportedly obtained by a telephone call made by the rate expert but less than 5% of call recordings were made available by the defendant solicitor, three of whom seemed particularly determined not to allow the recordings to be scrutinised at all.

Where the recordings were made available, a check to determine whether the witness statements that followed the calls were faithful reproductions of the telephone call found that, in many cases, they were not.

‘Solicitors have a clear and unarguable obligation to the court. They have to ensure that evidence they put in front of a judge is honest and truthful especially when they have commissioned and paid for the evidence,’ explained Steve Evans, chief executive of Automotive & Insurance Solutions Group.

‘The investigation suggests that, in the majority of cases, they have either performed no meaningful check as to whether the evidence was wholly and completely honest or they are reckless as to whether it is.’

‘In too many cases, the evidence was so tainted that it was highly likely to mislead the trial judge and deny the innocent motorist justice, exactly the situation we saw with Autofocus.’

Evans added, ‘In 2009, the post mortem following the Autofocus fraud showed the same pattern of behaviour. Then, solicitors claimed they could never have imagined the deceit being perpetrated in the name of their insurer clients. Six years later, they need to reflect on the lessons learned, recognise that their primary obligation is to the court and take ownership of the ‘paid for’ evidence they are staking their insurer client’s reputations on.’