Asons Solicitors has been found guilty of falsifying documents, breaching anti-money laundering regulations and handling paperwork that contained forged signatures in a personal injury case dating back to 2014.
Sitting at Nottingham County Court, Judge Godsmark QC said that the firm, which was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority earlier this year, had used “shoddy practices” and that it had acted in an “improper, unreasonable and negligent” manner when handling the claim. The judge said that key documents had been found to contain forged signatures and that the firm had handled a claim made to insurer LV= without verifying whether or not the claimant was genuinely providing instructions. In addition, Asons was found to have falsified correspondence to disguise non-compliance with court timetabling.
At the trial, which was brought by Horwich Farrelly and heard over five days between 19-26 July and 11 September 2017 at Nottingham County Court, Judge Godsmark QC also ruled that Haroon Karim, a director of the claims management company Accident Claims Assistant, who had referred the claim to Asons, was guilty of deliberately forging the claimant’s signature on a number of documents.
As a result, the judge ruled that both parties were jointly liable to pay LV=’s costs of defending the action, which are estimated to be in the region of £40,000.
The action arose out of a £3,000 claim for whiplash made by Nitin Trehan, following an accident in Nottingham in 2012. Trehan took his vehicle in for repairs, and then contacted Adeel Karim, an individual who had assisted him in relation to an earlier accident. Karim passed on details of the accident to his brother, Haroon Karim, who then sold the claim to Asons Solicitors. Asons then submitted the claim to LV=.
The matter reached trial on 19 September 2014. However, with the claimant failing to attend court the claim was dismissed and Trehan was ordered to pay LV=’s costs of £7,744.48. When the insurer sought to enforce the costs order against Trehan, he professed to know nothing about the claim brought in his name.
Trehan launched proceedings for Asons to be responsible for the costs. In response, Asons argued that it had had very limited contact with the claimant and that liability lay with Karim. As a result, both Asons and Karim were joined into the proceedings.
A handwriting expert examined the claim form, the particulars of claim and an authority to release medical records, and concluded that there was strong evidence to show that Trehan’s signatures had been forged by Karim.
The judge also said that there had been no evidence of any correspondence between Asons and Trehan; no signed funding agreement; and no evidence that Asons had taken any steps to confirm the identity of their supposed client.
Karim revealed that he referred up to 24 claims a month to various solicitors, being paid about £500 for each one. The court also heard that Karim had been involved in a dozen claims-related companies which had been liquidated between 2013-16, and that he was currently operating as a credit hire operator.
Although Judge Godsmark concluded that Asons had been deceived by Karim, he condemned the firm for its “gross failure” to carry out basic identity checks on its client, and for failing to have any direct contact with him.
In his ruling, he said: “That a solicitors practice can purport to act for a client they have never met or had direct contact with is startling. That those solicitors feel able to commence litigation on behalf of an individual they have never met or had direct with, without any funding arrangement in place, is frankly appalling. When I add to that the manner in which the litigation was pursued with falsification of the dates of letters (also to deceive) the picture is deeply disturbing.”
Ronan McCann, partner at Horwich Farrelly, said: “This ruling highlights the shoddy practices of Asons Solicitors who appeared to make numerous attempts to conceal their previously negligent handling of the claim. The ruling that Haroon Karim forged signatures on documents and is jointly liable to pay LV=’s costs sends a clear message to professional enablers that insurers will not stop in their efforts to stamp out fraudulent claims”.
Clare Lunn, director of fraud LV= general insurance, said: “This is a significant win. For too long corrupt lawyers, medical experts and other professional enablers have tried to evade justice by hiding behind a veneer of respectability. LV= will now recover our costs from Asons Solicitors and Mr Karim and not the innocent third party, who could easily have been burdened with the cost allowing Asons and Karim to walk away scot free. As an industry we need to continue to take a tough stance against such conduct which will act as a deterrent to stop such practices.”
Pictured above: Imran Akram, former CEO of Asons Solicitors