When cherry picking is not allowed: More on QOCS and CFAs

The Court of Appeal decision of Catalano v Espley-Tyas Development Group Ltd [2017] EWCA Civ 1132 relates to an appeal brought by the Claimant against a decision of Deputy District Judge Harris, who found that she was not entitled to QOCS protection under a post-01 April 2013 CFA after she had previously terminated a pre-01 April 2013 CFA.

Implemented on 01 April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) abolished the ability of the winning party to recover both a success fee, and an after the event insurance premium, from the losing party. Instead, any agreed success fee was to be recovered out of the Claimant’s damages, and under CPR 44.13-44.17, Qualified One-way Costs Shifting (QOCS) was introduced. QOCS provides that any adverse costs orders made against an unsuccessful Claimant in a personal injury action could only be enforced to the extent that the amount did not exceed any damages and interest awarded to the Claimant. Therefore, if the Claimant recovered nil (or discontinued their claim or lost on liability) they, in theory, would not have to pay any amount in costs to the Defendant.

The transitional provision in CPR 44.17 states that QOCS does not apply where the Claimant had entered into a pre-commencement funding agreement. CPR 48.2 explains that a pre-commencement funding arrangement includes a pre-01 April 2013 CFA which provides for a success fee.

Ms Catalano originally funded her claim against the Defendant for loss and damages relating to noise induced hearing loss under a CFA dated 13 June 2012 (hence a pre-commencement funding arrangement). This, in the event of success, would have sought a success fee from the Defendant, and the Defendant was advised of this CFA via the letter of claim dated 06 September 2012.  The Claimant applied for ATE Insurance, however, this was rejected, leaving her exposed to adverse costs in the event of loss.

On 01 April 2013, the new QOCS rules came into force. The Claimant entered into a new CFA on 15 July 2013, which replaced the old agreement. An updated Notice of Funding was filed which confirmed that the matter was funded under a CFA dated 15 July 2013, but which also referenced the original CFA dated 13 June 2012. The box which indicated this CFA was terminated remained unticked.

The matter was listed for trial on 14 January 2015 and, just one day prior on 13 January 2015, the Claimant served a notice of discontinuance. The Defendant interpreted this notice as their deemed costs order under CPR 38.6, which automatically entitled them to their costs – they proceeded to serve a bill on the Claimant totalling £21,675.52 excluding interest.

The Claimant argued that she had the protection of QOCS on the basis the matter was funded under a CFA dated after 01 April 2013, and therefore the amount due to the Defendant was nil. However, Deputy District Judge found that the new regime was not applicable, basing his finding on a previous decision of Landau v The Big Bus Company (31 October 2014), in which Master Howarth held that QOCS did not apply where there was a pre and post 01 April 2013 funding agreement that covered only one matter. The Claimant appealed, with the decision being leapfrogged to the Court of Appeal.

On appeal, the Claimant argued that the Solicitors had terminated the first CFA and therefore, in accordance with a county court decision of Casseldine v The Diocese of Llandaff (03 July 2015), they were not entitled to any costs under it. Further, the Claimant argued that the second CFA replaced the first CFA which was no longer in force, and that the matter was therefore funded under a post 01 April 2013 CFA, without ATE insurance, and that she should have the benefit of QOCS.

In response, the Defendant argued that, whilst it was accepted that the first CFA had been terminated once the second CFA had been made, the Claimant was inserting an unwritten word into rule 48.2(1)(a)(i) so that it read “an un-terminated funding arrangement”, and that “it could not have been the intention of the rule to allow a Claimant to cherrypick the advantages of both regimes” and that since the Claimant’s application for ATE Insurance had been declined yet she continued to proceed, she was always going to face costs consequences if she lost.

Lord Justice Longmore considered the wording of CPR 48.2 (1)(a) and found that in this case there was undoubtedly a pre-commencement funding arrangement. He also found that the Claimant was “seeking to read a word into the rules which is not there”, and that “the framers of the rules could not have intended that a claimant should be able to blow hot and cold.”

The appeal was dismissed, with Lord Justice Longmore highlighting the fact that Ms Catalano and her Solicitors faced no injustice as, following the refusal of ATE insurance cover, they were open to adverse costs risks in any event.

This is a further case which considers QOCS and the parameters by which it protects unsuccessful Claimants in personal injury claims. In this case, the Claimant and her solicitors sought to benefit from the new QOCS regime so that she was protected from adverse costs risks after she was declined ATE Insurance. This, however, was unsuccessful and the Claimant was faced with not only the Defendant’s bill totalling £21,675.52 excluding interest, but also the Defendant’s costs of assessment, and the appeal costs. The Claimant was ordered to make a payment on account in respect of the appeal costs in the sum of £10,000.

If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog or legal costs in general please contact Joanne Chase (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

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