AN Ennis court has heard allegations of “a significant fraud ring” involving members of the Romanian and Traveller communities in Clare and Galway, writes Gordon Deegan.
At Ennis Circuit Court, counsel for Aviva Insurance Ireland, John Hogan BL said that he was making the claim on behalf of his client. He said that he would be calling evidence concerning the so-called fraud ring of around 60 claims arising from 16 separate accidents.
In the case, Aviva was contesting liability in the personal injury action being taken by Ennis mother-of-five, Keelie Stratton (36) arising from a June 2013 road traffic accident in Ennis.
Ms Stratton – who previously lived in England – confirmed to Mr Hogan that she had no knowledge of the existence of the alleged fraud ring involving Romanians and Travellers.
In support of his ‘fraud ring’ claim, Mr Hogan began to unroll a laminated chart for the court and before he had done so, Judge Brian O’Callaghan interjected to say: “I would ask you to put down the document. Don’t open that.”
Judge O’Callaghan said: “This is not a PR exercise on behalf of anyone and it should not be used for that purpose.”
Judge O’Callaghan told Mr Hogan: “How dare your client come in here and try to approach the defence of the legal action in this manner.”
Counsel for Ms Stratton, Elizabeth Mullins BL said that this was the first time she had seen the chart and it had not been shown to her prior to court.
Adjourning the case for 15 minutes, Judge O’Callaghan told Mr Hogan that with any documentation to be shown to court, there was a procedure to follow and it must be followed.
Fifteen minutes later after settlement talks in the case, Ms Mullins and Mr Hogan came back to court and Ms Mullins told Judge O’Callaghan that the case could be struck out and asked that the court vacate any cost orders made previously.
The case was settled after Judge O’Callaghan had earlier warned Mr Hogan that it was open to the court to award exemplary or aggravated damages in the event of unfounded allegations being put to a claimant.
Judge O’Callaghan made the comment after Mr Hogan told Ms Stratton that his client, Aviva Insurance had “serious suspicions regarding the circumstances” of the 2013 accident “and don’t accept that this was a genuine accident”.
In response, Ms Stratton said that the Gardai told her that they thought the accident “was a fraud” in an interview with Gardai in 2018.
Ms Mullins intervened to say that the Garda fraud claim was relying on information from Aviva Insurance. Ms Mullins said that Mr Hogan needed to back up the claim with evidence.
Mr Hogan asked Ms Stratton did she ever have any connection – either through herself or her family – with previous accidents involving Romanian people.
Ms Stratton replied ‘no’ and Mr Hogan said that the question was relevant as the driver and passenger in the other car in the 2013 accident are Romanian.
Ms Mullins commented: “There is nothing in the pleadings about extended family involving Romanians. This is trial by ambush.”
Mr Hogan said that the reference to Romanians “is a significant part of the allegation of fraud so I have to go down that road and I am doing it on the hazard”.
Mr Hogan put to Ms Stratton that in her 2018 interview with Gardai about the accident, she told Gardai that the driver of the car in which she was a back-seat passenger, Jason McDonagh “would be a relative of my sister-in-law’s husband and I would know him fairly well” and now in court says that she only knows of him.
Under cross examination from Mr Hogan, Ms Stratton said that she couldn’t understand why she would have said that to Gardai “because I don’t know him”.
There were six others, including two children, in the seven seater Opel Zafira car and Mr Hogan said that other personal injury claims have been made from people in the car and they are in abeyance currently.
Earlier, Ms Stratton told Ms Mullins that apart from the case before the court she was never involved in any personal injury claim before or since involving a road traffic accident.
The head-on crash occurred on Simms Lane a short-cut used between Drumbiggle and Ms Stratton’s home at Hermitage, Ennis.
Ms Stratton said that a medical examination in the aftermath of the accident had found she had suffered tissue damage.
She said that she suffered pain to neck, back and shoulder blades and that she suffered from flashbacks and very severe migraines after the accident.
Ms Stratton said that she was fully recovered mentally and physically three years after the accident. She told the court she saw a neurologist, a psychiatrist and also attended 14 physiotherapy sessions to deal with her injuries.