The introduction of fixed costs was expected to create certainty in the amount which parties would recover at the conclusion of a claim. However the rules as drafted leave numerous lacunas and gaps which parties can exploit, which in turn has lead to satellite litigation. This is not what the drafters of the rules intended and is often not in the interest of the parties, as it leads to additional further cost which, in many cases and given the already low amount of costs recoverable, can be disproportionate.
In order to avoid this risk it is important that practitioners ensure that terms of settlement make proper provision for costs to avoid the risk of further litigation. This is a complex topic, and this is intended as a quick reference guide to help you to avoid the pitfalls so that you do not fall into the ‘fixed costs trap’.
- Claims which leave the portal
Pursuant to the Protocols, a claim will leave the portal if it is revalued in an amount higher than the protocol limit (currently £25,000). However, CPR 45.29A states that fixed costs apply where the claim was started in the protocol. Of critical importance is to note that the mere fact that the claim was revalued at more than the protocol limit does not mean that standard basis costs apply. Practitioners should be wary of this when settling such claims and should either:
- Settle only on terms that standard basis (not fixed) costs apply. Therefore CPR 36 should be avoided; or
- Refuse to settle until after allocation of the claim to the multi-track, as allocation to the multi-track causes fixed costs to cease to apply (see Qadar v Esure)
Whilst it may seem extreme to refuse settlement until allocation, this is at present the only way to ensure (so much as it is ever possible to ensure) that fixed costs will not apply. It should be borne in mind that such an approach is a calculated risk, as it is possible that a court would find that such conduct is ‘unreasonable’ should the matter proceed. That said, it should be possible to argue that without agreement fixed costs would apply and that the claimant is therefore better off and as such the conduct was not unreasonable.
- Settlement by CPR 36.20
Where fixed costs do apply and the claim is settled by part 36, there is no right to detailed assessment. If a dispute arises over fixed costs then one of the parties must apply.
- Non-Part 36 settlement
It is generally preferable to seek to agree the amount of fixed costs which apply. Failure to do so can lead to disputes (and costly applications) over the correct level of fixed costs and ‘reasonable’ disbursements. It is currently unclear whether the costs of such applications are recoverable. Including a provision in a settlement agreement should be straightforward, as the costs are fixed. If an opponent refuses to do so it may be that they intend to raise technical arguments about the costs which are recoverable.
Claimants should note that defendants are aware of these argument and therefore may try to catch out the unwary.
This is a very quick summary of the issues surrounding settlement in cases to which fixed costs apply, however with the imminent introduction of fixed costs in cases of noise induced hearing loss slated for 2019 at the latest and he likely introduction of fixed costs in all cases in around 2020, these issues will only become more relevant. On current information, the proposed rules for NIHL claims do not fix any of the existing issues with fixed costs and therefore we can expect these problems to persist for some time.
Matthew Rose is a Solicitor in the Costs and Litigation Funding department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.