In the clinical negligence matter between JMX (A child by his Mother and Litigation Friend, FMX) v Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  EWHC 185 (QB), Mr Justice Foskett found that a Part 36 liability offer of 90% was a genuine offer, which resulted in the Claimant securing the costs benefits listed in CPR 36.17(4).
These benefits included:
1) costs on the indemnity basis following expiry of the offer;
2) interest payable on those costs at a rate not exceeding 10% above base rate;
3) the recovery by the Claimant of an additional amount to be determined after the damages have been assessed pursuant to rule 36.17(4)(d).
The matter had been listed for a liability only trial on Monday 31 October 2017. On 06 October 2017, the Claimant had made a Part 36 offer to accept 90% of the damages to be agreed or assessed. The offer expired on Friday 27 October 2017 and was not accepted by the Defendant. The matter proceeded to trial and the Claimant achieved a result more advantageous than the offer.
CPR 36.17(5) provides that “In considering whether it would be unjust to make the orders referred to in paragraphs (3) and (4), the Court must take into account of the circumstances of the case including-
a) the terms of any Part 36 offer;
b) the stage in the proceedings when any Part 36 offer was made, including in particular how long before the trial started the offer was made;
c) the information available to the parties at the time when the Part 36 offer was made;
d) the conduct of the parties with regard to the giving of or refusal to give information for the purposes of enabling the offer to be made or evaluated; and
e) whether the offer was a genuine attempt to settle the proceedings.”
The Defendant had tried to argue that the offer was not realistic and failed to reflect any realistic assessment of the litigation risks. They argued that the Claimant’s Part 36 offer letter did not explain why only a 10% reduction was being offered, which went against the Court of Appeal’s guidance in the case of Huck v Robson  EWCA Civ 398.
This, however, was not accepted by Mr Justice Foskett, who found that “Whilst, of course, it is open to the offeror to explain this kind of thinking in the letter making the offer if it is thought helpful, I do wonder whether in most cases it would assist. I can see the letter prompting a reply (sometimes expressed in language that does not help the settlement process) and it may be thought better simply to leave it to the recipient of the offer to assess the offer as it stands”.
The judgment highlighted the power that Part 36 offers have, and whilst the judge did not criticise the Defendant for failing to accept the offer at the time it was made, he did stress that “Part 36 was drafted in a way that provides an incentive to a defendant to view seriously and, where appropriate, to accept a claimant’s Part 36 offer. The decision not to do so may be perfectly understandable and reasonable even if, in due course, it turns out to have been the wrong one. It is simply a reflection of the litigation risk that each party has to evaluate”.
The judge considered the appropriate interest rate to be awarded (CPR 36.17 (4)(c)), and confirmed that 5% above base rate from 28 October 2017 would do justice.
Whilst a 10% deduction may not, in some cases, amount to much in monetary terms, the judge recognised that in high value serious injury cases worth several million pounds, a 10% reduction would not be an insignificant amount of money, particularly when saved for the public benefit in matters against the NHS.
If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog please contact Joanne Chase (firstname.lastname@example.org and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.