Evaluating Litigation Risk & Part 36 Offers

In the clinical negligence matter between JMX (A child by his Mother and Litigation Friend, FMX) v Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust [2018] 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 [2002] 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 (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.

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It’s all in the detail – the costly lesson of getting your retainer wrong: Radford & Anor v Frade & Ors [2018] EWCA Civ 119

In July 2017, the grounds on which the Appellants brought an appeal were considered in the blog CFAs, Counsel and Rectification – Permission to Appeal granted. This blog focused on the decision of Frade & Ors v Radford & Anor [2017] EQCA Civ 1010.

Fast forward to 07 February 2018, and the Court of Appeal have now considered, and subsequently dismissed, the appeal. Lord Justice McCombe ordered that work done outside the scope of a CFA was not recoverable inter partes, and that retrospective rectification of Counsel’s CFA did not permit costs to be recoverable when they would not have been recoverable save for the rectification.

The Solicitor’s retainers

The Appellants’ argued that a conventional retainer that was entered into before the CFA covered work which was not covered by the CFA. They argued that whilst the CFA superseded the original retainer, there was no basis to conclude that the CFA revoked this retainer. The Appellants relied on the fact that the original retainer letter was sent to their clients at the same time the draft CFA was sent. However, on appeal, the Judge found that there was no co-existing retainer to capture the work which was not covered by the CFA. He concluded on this point that “it only makes sense that the solicitors and clients understood that the CFA superseded the original conventional retainer which had been entered into in circumstances of urgency and before the viability of a CFA could be assessed”, and that “I simply can find no room, on the facts of this case, for the two types of express retainer to have subsisted side by side or for the original retainer to spring back into life, when, contrary to all expectations, the CFA did not cover all the steps taken”.

Therefore, it was a costly lesson to the Appellants that their failure to review the terms of their CFA resulted in work being undertaken that they would not receive payment for.

Counsel’s CFA and retrospective rectification

In terms of the retrospective rectification of Counsel’s CFA, the Appellant’s argued that the rectification of the CFA, which post-dated the order for costs, corrected an error of the omission of two corporate Defendants on the CFA, and that the rectification of the document rendered those Defendants’ liable for Counsel’s fees. And therefore, as a result of such, Counsel’s fees were recoverable on an inter partes basis.

However, the Respondents argued that there was no evidence that the corporate Defendants had ever agreed to retrospectively be responsible for Counsel’s fees, and that it was not open to the Appellants to add to the paying party’s liability for costs after the date the costs order was made. The Respondents relied upon Kellar v Williams [2004].

The Court of Appeal considered the argument and agreed with the original finding of Warby J on this point:

“The underlying rationale is in my judgment that the effect of a costs order is to create a liability to pay, subject to assessment, those costs which a party has paid or is liable to pay at the time the order is made. The liability to pay costs crystallises at that point and, although its quantum will remain to be worked out, that process must be governed by the liabilities of the receiving party as they stand at that time. To allow enforcement of a retrospective agreement which increases those liabilities would be to alter retrospectively the effect of the court’s order.”

The Judge followed the decision in Kellar v Williams [2004] and found that a retrospective rectification of Counsel’s CFA cannot be effective to increase the liability of the paying party after the making of the inter partes costs order.

The decision is therefore an important lesson to litigators. When working under CFAs, it is essential to consider and monitor the retainers to ensure two things; that the work being undertaken is covered by the scope of the retainer, and that for any CFA entered into with Counsel, the parties responsible for Counsel’s fees are documented within the CFA.

 

If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog please contact Joanne Chase (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.

Part 36 offers, the basis of assessment, and knowing your expert

It is well known within the costs profession that there is some tension in the provisions of CPR 36.17, which deals with the costs consequences following judgment.

When a Claimant beats their own Part 36 offer, CPR 36.17 (4) provides that the Claimant is entitled to: interest not exceeding 10% above base rate from the date of expiry of the offer on the whole or part of any sum of money awarded, their costs on the indemnity basis from the date of expiry of their offer, interest on those costs, again, at a rate not exceeding 10% above base rate, and a prescribed percentage uplift limited to a maximum of £75,000 (10% on awards less than £500,000, and for awards more than £500,000, 10% on the first £500,000 and 5% of any amount above that figure thereafter).

However, for the Defendant, the rules are not quite so generous. CPR 36.17 (3) provides that the Defendant is entitled to costs from the date on which the relevant period expired, and interest on those costs. There’s no mention of indemnity basis costs, and no mention of any enhanced interest.

The recent costs decision in the case The Governors and Company of the Bank of Ireland (1) and Bank of Ireland (UK) PLC (2) v Watts Group PLC [2017] looked at this point closely, with the Defendant trying to persuade the Hon. Mr Justice Coulson that they should be awarded their costs on the indemnity basis following expiry of their first Part 36 offer, which they beat at trial, and which expired on 23 October 2015 (the parties had previously agreed that the Defendant should recover interest at 2% above base rate for the relevant period).

The Defendant relied on three main arguments; that the claim was hopeless and should never have been brought, that the Defendant had beaten their own Part 36 offer, and that the Claimant’s expert was heavily criticised by the trial judge.

The Hon. Mr Justice Coulson considered the principles that he had set out in Elvanite Full Circle Limited v Amec Earth and Environmental (UK) Limited [2013] EWHC 1643 (TCC), and summarised that “indemnity costs are appropriate only where the conduct of a paying party is unreasonable “to a high degree”. ‘Unreasonable’ in this context does not mean merely wrong or misguided in hindsight”. He went on to say that “The pursuit of a weak claim will not usually, on its own, justify an order for indemnity costs, provided that the claim was at least arguable”

In this case, he did not regard the case as being hopeless from the start, and he stated that the claim was, at least in part, supported by expert evidence and detailed witness statements.

He recognised that if the Claimant had beaten their own Part 36 offer then, in accordance with CPR 36.17(4)(b), they would have automatically been entitled to indemnity basis costs, however, he stated that whilst the rules were misaligned and considered unjustified by some, it remained the law that the same rules did not apply to successful Defendants.

He did, however, allow costs on the indemnity basis in relation to one discrete aspect of the case – the expert’s conduct, and he relied on the decisions of Balmoral v Borealis [2006] and Williams v Jervis [2009] in doing so. He considered that the expert’s conduct should be reflected in the costs order, but he did not consider that an order for indemnity basis costs in their entirety was appropriate. He recognised that the expert’s inadequacies had already been a factor in the Claimant losing at trial, and therefore “to order indemnity costs as well would be penalising the Bank twice over for the conduct of their independent expert”. He ordered that costs of the Defendant expert should be assessed on the indemnity basis, as well as costs of and occasioned by the oral evidence given by the Claimant’s expert at trial.

The Claimant paid a heavy price for relying on an expert who had never given oral evidence at a trial. However, the conduct of the expert did not persuade the Court to allow indemnity basis costs throughout. Nor did the fact that the Defendant had beaten their own Part 36 offer. And whilst the Claimant bank accepted that they lost the litigation “badly”, they denied that the claim was unreasonably brought and they warned about the dangers of applying hindsight to such decisions.

It, therefore, seems that there is a high bar to clear in persuading the judge to award indemnity basis costs in a claim where the Defendant has successfully beaten their own Part 36 offer. Like in this case, a paying party would need to consider and rely upon the factors listed in CPR 44.2 (4), in order to formulate a case that would persuade a judge to make such an award in the circumstances.

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.

Forgot to secure a payment on account of costs at the final hearing? All may not be lost…

This brief judgment concerned whether or not a party could seek an order for a payment on account of costs after a costs award had been ordered, but before detailed assessment proceedings had begun.

In Ashman v Thomas [2016] EWHC 1810 (Ch), judgment had been given extempore on preliminary issues on 21 June 2016. Following the hearing, and as part of seeking to agree terms of the order, the defendant sought a payment on account of costs. On 23 June 2016, 2 days after the hearing, the defendant served a costs schedule totalling circa. £48,650. The claimant disputed the defendant’s entitlement to a payment on account on the basis they had failed to make the request at the time the order was made. The claimant relied on there being no provision within the rules for the defendant to now seek a payment on account of costs until they had commenced detailed assessment proceedings and sought an interim costs certificate under CPR 44.16(1).

In addition, the claimant alleged that the defendant was in breach of CPR 44PD 9.5 (4)(b), as they had failed to serve a costs schedule 24 hours before the hearing. Master Matthews dismissed this point on the basis that PD 9.5 (4)(b) concerned summary assessment of costs and was not applicable to detailed assessment.

The main issue between the parties was whether an order could be made to include a term for a payment on account of costs when that request had not been made at the actual hearing.

Master Matthews considered CPR 44.2(8):

“Where the court orders a party to pay costs subject to detailed assessment, it will order that party to pay a reasonable sum on account of costs, unless there is good reason not to do so”,

and decided that there was good reason to consider the defendant’s request on the basis that it had been made after the hearing but before the order was sealed. The court retains power to alter its judgment or order until it is perfected and sealed in accordance with Re Barrell Enterprises [1973] 1 WLR 19, CA.

The defendant sought a payment on account of costs in the sum of £20,000. The claimant challenged the statement of costs on several grounds, including excessive hourly rates, signature of the statement by the firm and not individual solicitor, and failure to identify which costs the statement related to.

Master Matthews accepted that the statement was restricted to preliminary issues only, and he was also not concerned with the signature challenge on the basis that the matter was not subject to a summary assessment.

He was, however, in agreement with the claimant that the hourly rates were excessive. Furthermore, he believed that some of the work undertaken by the Grade A Solicitor could have been delegated to a more junior fee earner. He stressed that “the paying party should not be asked to pay more than is reasonable and proportionate”.

Taking the above into consideration, Master Matthews agreed that a payment on account of costs was justified, however, given the excessive level of costs claimed, the award was limited to £17,500, to be paid within 14 days.

This short judgment contains several reminders about good practice. The filing of a statement of costs before any hearing ensures that the issue of a payment on account of costs can be dealt with as soon as a costs award has been made, as per CPR 44.2(8).

However, if the receiving party did not secure an order for a payment on account of costs at the time the costs award was made, they still have an opportunity to seek inclusion within the order prior to it being sealed by the Court. A statement of costs is likely to prove essential in quantifying the amount of the payment on account to be made.

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.

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.

CFAs, Counsel and Rectification – Permission to Appeal granted

The case Frade & Ors v Radford & Anor [2017] EQCA Civ 1010 involved a renewed application for permission to appeal against an Order of Warby J from July 2016, which dismissed two appeals brought by the Appellant Defendants following the detailed assessment of their costs.

Master Howarth, Costs Judge, had found at the original detailed assessment of the Defendants’ costs that there was no agreement between the Defendants, their Solicitors Taylor Hampton, and Counsel, Augustus Ullstein QC, for the payment of any fees, and thus there was no liability for the Claimants to pay under an inter partes costs order. This was due to the wording and scope of the CFAs, and the omission to name all four Defendants within the CFA with Counsel.

Counsel’s CFA, dated 6 July 2011, named two Individual Defendants, but failed to include the remaining two Corporate Defendants. Following the making of the final inter partes order, the Defendants became aware of their oversight, and entered into a deed of rectification with Counsel on 30 July 2015 whereby the CFA was extended, with retrospective effect, to cover the proceedings against the Corporate Defendants.

The Claimants had argued on detailed assessment that, due to Counsel’s CFA failing to name the two Corporate Defendants, those clients had no liability to pay Counsel for any work done, and that on an inter partes assessment, the Claimants should only be liable for the fees incurred that the Individual Defendants were liable for.

On appeal, Warby J found that the deed of rectification was irrelevant inter partes. Warby J accepted that the deed of rectification “was effective to cure the position as between Counsel and his clients”, but that “events subsequent to the costs order against the Claimants were to be disregarded for the purpose of assessing their liability – at least if those events increased rather than diminished that liability”.

The Defendants therefore sought to appeal the Order of Warby J on 7 grounds, with ground 6 dealing with Counsel’s CFA and the finding that the rectified CFA was ineffective on an inter partes basis.

The Defendants argued that there was powerful evidence on file to support the fact that the failure to name the Corporate Defendants within the CFA was a simple oversight. He submitted that the CFA should be rectified to reflect the true agreement with Counsel, and that there was no rule of law that rendered the deed of rectification ineffective inter partes.

In response, Counsel for the Claimants argued that, whilst case law such as King v Telegraph Group Ltd [2005] and Holmes v Alfred McAlpine Homes (Yorkshire) Ltd [2006] allowed for a CFA to have a retrospective effect, Kellar v Williams [2004] made it clear that a variation in the charging basis between a receiving party and their client made after an inter partes costs order was ineffective against the paying party, particularly if it resulted in a larger costs burden. Counsel recognised that Kellar v Williams [2004] was persuasive authority only, being a Privy Council case, but argued that costs judges had previously followed it.

LJ Hickinbottom was persuaded that the circumstances of this case could be distinguished from Kellar v Williams on the basis it related to the rectification of a contract rather than a variation to the terms, and he found that this case raised a point of general importance that should further be considered by the Court. He therefore granted permission to appeal on Ground 6.

We await the appeal decision with interest. If a receiving party finds themselves in a similar position, this appeal decision may assist in recovering Counsel’s fees inter partes when a genuine mistake is identified and rectification of the CFA is required after the making on the order.

If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog please contact Joanne Chase (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.

Qualified One-way Costs Shifting – when tactics are not an abuse of process

In Shaw v Medtronic [2017] EWHC 1397 (QB), the Court of Appeal found that the claimant had not abused the Court process by filing a notice of discontinuance against the fifth defendant to benefit from the protection of qualified one-way costs shifting (QOCS).

The parties agreed that section 2 of CPR 44 applied, and in particular CPR 44.14(1) which states subject to rules 44.15 and 44.16, orders for costs made against a claimant may be enforced without the permission of the court but only to the extent that the aggregate amount in money terms of such orders does not exceed the aggregate amount in money terms of any orders for damages and interest made in favour of the claimant.

In this particular case, the claimant had not received any award for damages or interest, and therefore the rule would in effect mean that no costs order could be enforced against them.

During the main claim, the fifth defendant had filed an acknowledgement of service on 11 October 2016, and on 17 October 2106, they had written to the claimant’s solicitor to highlight the weaknesses of the claim. This prompted a response from the claimant’s solicitor which stated that they were not prepared to file, at that stage, a notice of discontinuance. The fifth defendant therefore, on 25 October 2016, filed an application to strike out the claim. If the fifth defendant were successful it would “bring the fifth defendant within the scope of the exception in CPR 44.15(a) to the general rule concerning qualified one-way costs shifting”.

CPR 44.15 (a) states that Orders for costs made against the claimant may be enforced to the full extent of such orders without the permission of the court where the proceedings have been struck out on the grounds that –

(a) the claimant has disclosed no reasonable grounds for bringing the proceedings;

The first judgment was given on 20 January 2017, and the claimant proceeded to file a notice of discontinuance on the fifth defendant in March 2017, before the fifth defendant’s application could be heard.

The fifth defendant attempted to persuade Mr Justice Lavender to utilise his powers under CPR 38.4 and set aside the notice of discontinuance on the basis it was an abuse of the process of the Court. However, Mr Justice Lavender found that whilst it was striking that the claimant has opted to discontinue against the fifth defendant whilst maintaining claims against the first, third and fourth defendants (through the Court of Appeal), that it may be that the claimant had realised, albeit later than they may have done, that the prospects of success in their claim against the fifth defendant were not favourable. Justice Lavender found that “it does not, in those circumstances, strike me that this is a case of abuse of process of anything sufficient to justify setting aside the notice of discontinuance”.

The fifth defendant was refused permission to appeal on the basis the decision was made on the facts of the case.

Therefore, as a litigator, the power of QOCS should always be borne in mind, particularly if the case being brought by a claimant is for non-monetary award. The filing of a notice of discontinuance is a powerful tool for claimants to have as their exposure to adverse costs would be nil. As a defendant, you should always be on the lookout for any aspects of the case which may kick into effect CPR 44.15 in order to escape the parameters of QOCS.

If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog please contact Joanne Chase (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.