The recent case of Rezek-Clarke -v- Moorfields Eye Hospital is another example of how the new test of proportionality is being applied and the impact it is having on the receiving parties’ claims for costs.
This case related to a low value medical negligence claim. The Claimant instructed his solicitors on 31 July 2013 and letters of claim were sent to the proposed Defendants on 20 June 2014. The Defendant admitted liability on 14 November 2014, but denied causation. Proceedings were issued against the Defendant on 1 October 2014 (mainly due to impending limitation issues).
The claim, at best, was worth £5,000.00 and was compromised on 8 July 2015 for £3,250.00.
On 29 October 2015, the Claimant’s solicitors commenced Detailed Assessment Proceedings. The bill of costs for detailed assessment totalled £72,320.85. The matter proceeded to a Provisional Assessment before Master Simons on 21 July 2016, where he assessed the bill and reduced this to £24,604.40. On 24 August 2016, the Claimant requested an oral hearing in relation to the provisional assessment and that oral assessment took place on 10 January 2017.
The judgment dealt solely with the issues of proportionality and the ATE insurance premium. The Master did make some increases (to other items within the bill of costs) to what he originally allowed on Provisional Assessment, however, these other items/issues that were heard at the oral hearing did not form part of the judgment.
The key points which arose from the judgment are as follows:
At paragraph 19 the Master referred to the well-known case of Jefferson -v- National Freight Carriers Plc  EWCA Civ 2082 where HHJ Bolton said the following:
“In modern litigation, with the emphasis on proportionality, it is necessary for parties to make an assessment at the outset of the likely value of the claim and its importance and complexity, and then to plan in advance the necessary work, the appropriate level of person to carry out the work, the overall time which will be necessary and appropriate to spend on the various stages in bringing the action to trial, and the likely overall cost. While it is not unusual for costs to exceed the amount in issue, it is, in the context of modern litigation such as the present case, one reason for seeking to kerb the amount of work done, and the cost by reference to the need for proportionality”.
Master Simons, in his judgment, seemed to be critical of the Claimant’s solicitors inability to be able to produce any evidence to support any case planning or consideration regarding the appropriate costs to be incurred (taking into account the fact that the claim was always going to be of a low value). Looking at this point from a practical perspective, it seems logical for any Claimant solicitor, as a matter of course, to produce a case plan from the outset of a case together with a skeleton costs budget. Documentation (evidence) of this nature could prove invaluable when trying to demonstrate to a Master or Costs Judge that case planning and consideration did take place. In the absence of such evidence the receiving party could be left in a more vulnerable position, particularly in low value claims where costs are globally disproportionate.
Furthermore, Master Simons ruled that the new test for proportionality does apply to liabilities incurred post 1 April 2013. In this case the ATE insurance premium was one which is still allowed under the Recovery of Costs Insurance Premiums in Clinical Negligence Proceedings (No. 2) Regulations 2013). This contradicts the decisions of Master Rowley in King v Basildon and of Master Brown in Murrells v Cambridge University. However, it is consistent with the decision of Master Saker in BNM v MGN.
What is abundantly clear is there is disagreement at the Senior Court Costs Office as to the application of the new test of proportionality in relation to post 1 April 2013 additional liabilities and clarity is required to ensure that any confusion is avoided.
ATE Insurance Premium
The ATE premium totalled £31,976.49. On Provisional Assessment, the Master reduced the premium to £2,120.00 (a reduction of circa. 93%). This was reduced on the basis of proportionality.
The Claimant’s solicitors made the usual submissions in relation to ATE premiums and relied on the well-known case of Rogers v Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. However, Master Simons ruled that the case was distinguishable from ‘Rogers’ as ‘Rogers’ was decided pre-LASPO. Paragraph 64 of the Judgment is useful to read in relation to this point, but essentially it explains that the test of proportionality was fundamentally different when the ‘Rogers’ case was decided. In ‘Rogers’ the Court concluded that if it was necessary to incur an ATE insurance premium, then it should be adjudged a proportionate expense. However, now proportionality trumps necessity. No doubt the ATE insurance market had some tears in their eyes when they read this paragraph of the judgment as it will no doubt cause challenges to those ATE insurance premiums which remain in the system.
Another interesting point made was at paragraph 67 of the judgment where the Master made a comment in relation to the calculation of an ATE insurance premium:
“……As the premium is deferred, surely the basis of calculation should be on the reasonable amount of the fees for the medical reports, not the actual cost…….”.
The Master therefore felt that the premium should be calculated taking into account the amount allowed on assessment and not the claimed amount. I suspect such an approach would receive some real opposition from the ATE insurance market, as ATE insurers pay the claimed amount to experts if the claim fails.
Another interesting point is made further on in paragraph 67:
“……Furthermore, it is often the case that the fee claimed for a medical report includes the fee charged by a medical agency. I query whether any attempt is made by solicitors or the insurers when calculating the premium, to distinguish between the actual cost of the report and the fee paid to the medical agency……”.
Clearly, for those acting for paying parties, there are some useful questions and points to raise in relation to post 1 April 2013 ATE insurance premiums following this judgment.
Preparation of the bill of costs
A separate point raised in the submissions regarding the ATE insurance premium was the calculation of the premium and in turn, the preparation of the bill of costs. This was quite a serious point and demonstrates the importance of preparing accurate bills of costs for detailed assessment. The premium was claimed at £31,976.49, but during the oral detailed assessment hearing, the receiving party explained that the premium had been calculated incorrectly, and that the correct amount was £22,255.23. However, the Claimant could not provide an explanation regarding why there had been an error in the calculation and (more importantly), why the bill of costs had been certified as accurate and true when it contained such a substantial error (the error being £9,721.26).
This did seem to trouble the Master and paragraphs 61, 62 and 63 are useful to read in this regard. The Master raised concerns regarding the lack of evidence that had been provided to support the correct level of the premium. The methodology in calculating the premium at £22,225.23 was based on witness evidence. The only evidence in front of the Master was a Schedule of Insurance which showed a premium of £30,916.50, and therefore the failure to include the correct (or evidence the correct) premium in the bill of costs caused some real prejudice to the Claimant. At paragraph 63, Master Simons stated that he would have been justified in disallowing the premium in full.
This demonstrates the importance of preparing accurate bills of costs and ensuring that each item is correct before a bill is signed and detailed assessment proceedings are commenced. The premium was claimed incorrectly and even when the error was identified the Claimant failed to explain how the new and correct figure was calculated. This failure could not have helped the Claimant in their submissions that the premium was proportionate or support their arguments that the drastic reduction at provisional assessment was incorrect.
The real headline point that can be taken from this case is how the courts are approaching the application of the new test of proportionality to additional liabilities. This case further adds to the current confusion as to how the new test of proportionality is to be applied in relation to post 1 April 2013 additional liabilities. Hopefully, by the end of the year we should have clarity as the Court of Appeal is due to look at the matter at some point in October. Until then, we should all expect a mixed bag of outcomes (or adjournments) on detailed assessment from the different Masters and Costs Judges all around the country!
This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding team. Andrew can be contacted on 0113 336 3334 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.