Claimant law firm Asons has agreed to repay more than £100,000 to AXA after admitting to falsely and systematically inflating its legal costs, the insurer said today.
The dispute involved 65 personal injury cases, settled between September 2013 and December 2014, where “Asons overstated the qualifications and experience of its legal staff to falsely inflate the bills sent to AXA”.
In a statement, AXA said: “Asons admitted that they were systematically attempting to present false and misleading information on an organised basis to exaggerate their claim for costs, but Asons denied acting fraudulently.”
In a statement, Asons said: “We take matters like this very seriously. Following a complaint by AXA, an internal investigation was immediately undertaken. We reported the matter to our regulator and any overpayments were returned. New procedures were instigated and we are satisfied that there has been no recurrence of the historical issues raised by AXA.”
A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority said: “We are aware of the situation and are gathering all relevant information before deciding on appropriate action.”
The timing is bad for Asons, which has been in the news of late over a controversial £300,000 grant from Bolton council to help refurbish its offices.
It is also bad for claimant lawyers more generally given that the government is currently considering the way forward with its personal injury reforms after its consultation closed last month. AXA has been lobbying hard for changes for several years.
AXA said the issue came to light in July 2015 following a case in Manchester County Court, where Asons claimed the fee-earner working the case had more than six years of litigation experience, when actually they had less than two.
Asons claimed this was an administrative error but the court sanctioned the firm for misconduct. This prompted AXA to review a number of cost claims involving the law firm and identifying the 65 cases.
As part of the settlement, Asons has agreed to pay AXA more than £40,000 in legal costs as well as the near £70,000 in damages and interest.
Gian Luigi di Franco, claims manager at AXA said: “This is just the kind of behaviour that the insurance industry has been highlighting for years now, behaviour that is fuelling a compensation culture across the country.
“This was a systematic attempt to secure funds that Asons ought to have known they were not entitled to. We hope and expect that this victory sends a strong message to those in the claimant lawyer fraternity who would undermine the reputation of and trust in their profession purely in the pursuit of money.”