Defendant employers’ liability (EL) insurer, Zurich, has appealed an application for permission to make a committal application against an occupational deafness claimant, after ‘extensive investigations’ into his social media, in early 2017, revealed that noisy hobbies outside of work had been undisclosed throughout the course of litigation.[i]
69-year-old, David Romaine, sought £5,000 in damages from his defunct employer, Stanley Refrigeration Ltd, pleading that his noise-induced hearing loss and episodic tinnitus had developed as a result of his employment as a fridge engineer, in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
The Daily Mail reported that:
‘When asked [it is not clarified whether this was in response to a Part 18 request, an audiologist’s / medical expert’s line of inquiry, or in witness evidence], he denied that he had any noisy hobbies, saying that on occasion he quietly strummed an acoustic guitar’.
However, information publicly available online showed that Mr. Romaine had ‘lied’.
Videos and photos on social media conveyed his ‘interest in fast motorcycles, fast cars and guitars’. As well as having ridden motorcycles, he was an electric guitarist and lead singer in ‘The 501’s’, a live rock band, which ‘regularly’ performed at pubs, clubs and festivals across the south-east of England. What is more, a website for ‘The 501’s’ claimed that Mr. Romaine ‘shared stages with Slade and Jasper Carrott as a young man and gigged in a folk band’.
In light of the online discovery, Zurich, on behalf of the defunct insurer, threatened to apply to strike out Mr. Romaine’s claim. His immediate discontinuance led Zurich to infer that:
‘Mr Romaine had given up as he had been found out’.
Pursuant to CPR 81.10, Zurich sought to find Mr. Romaine in civil contempt of court, by making an application for permission to make a committal application.
At the High Court, in 2018, permission was refused by Mr Justice Goose, on the grounds that it was ‘not in the public interest’.
On appeal to the Court of Appeal, Zurich argued that the High Court judge, having ‘accepted that there was good evidence that Mr Romaine had been dishonest in the presentation of his claim’ had erred in failing to ‘identify any other issue that suggested this application was not in the public interest’.
By contrast, Mr. Romaine contended that the committal proceedings should not be permitted to go ahead, as he did not personally sign the documents in which the ‘dishonest’ statements appear.
Lord Justice Davis and Lord Justice Haddon-Cave have reserved judgment until a later date.
Counsel for the defendant in the present proceedings, David Callow, explained that claimants making ‘misleading statements’ in civil claims ‘should not go unpunished’:
'This is a clear case of simply deliberate misstatements about this man's non-occupational noise exposure’.
Should this application be successful and Mr. Romaine be found in contempt, he could face up to 2 years in prison. Binding case precedent could deter ‘dishonest’ claimants from bringing fraudulent claims in future.
Mr. Romaine admits that he may have been ill-advised in dropping his claim.
[i] Henry Martin, ‘Crock and Roll! Pensioner, 69, who sued formed bosses for his hearing loss is exposed as motorcycling front man for ROCK BAND’ (6 April 2019 Daily Mail) <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6893769/Pensioner-sued-formed-bosses-hearing-loss-exposed-motorcycling-man-ROCK-BAND.html> accessed 8 April 2019.