By: 28 April 2015
Court of Appeal criticises commoditised advice in personal injury litigation

The Court of Appeal has indirectly criticised litigators who use commoditised advice when dealing with personal injury cases, following the release of a formal written judgement of a long-standing negligence claim.

In their judgement, LJ Tomlinson, LJ Kitchin and Lady Justice Gloster addressed the issue of off-the-shelf advice in personal injury claims and castigated South Yorkshire firm Raleys Solicitors for its “extensive use of questionnaires and standardised letters with very little personal contact with the clients [that] enabled them to deal with a very high number of claims at limited cost”.

The criticism has come following a failure by Raleys to overturn a negligence claim against it by Leeds County Court in 2013. The case arose after a former Raleys client, Andrew Proctor, pursued the firm for loss of damages following his Vibration White Finger claim, which he believed had been under settled.

Proctor’s compensation settlement (£11,141) covered only a sum in relation to his injury, plus a further amount for his handicap in the labour market. It failed to take into account a claim for services required as a consequence of his disability arising from his injuries such as gardening or DIY.

At Leeds County Court, His Honour Judge Gosnell upheld Procter’s claim and awarded him damages of £6,655.22. Raleys had been permitted to appeal on one issue alone, which was the question over whether or not the firm was negligent in failing to conduct either a meeting or a telephone conversation with Procter in order to satisfy themselves that he fully understood the advice which they had given him.

In upholding the original decision, the Court of Appeal has also said that the absence of face-to-face discussions or telephone discussions meant that the solicitors had failed to “ensure that the client understood the circumstances on which a claim for compensation to reflect the inability to carry out, without assistance, routine domestic tasks could be made”.

The judges also said that the case threw into “sharp focus the need for standard form letters of advice to be clear in their exposition.”

Robert Godfrey, a partner and head of professional neligence at Mellor Hargreaves, who represented Proctor said that the judges were quick to dismiss the appeal by Raleys.

“[They] were highly critical of the commoditised way in which these claims were handled,” he said. ‘These comments have wider significance for all litigation solicitors, particularly in the world of the Portal and fixed fee regime.”