International firm Dentons has failed to dismiss a negligence claim filed against it in a High Court dispute where the practice was named as a third party.
In Capita Pension Trustees and another v Sedgwick Financial Services and others, Dentons applied to strike out four paragraphs of Sedgwick’s claim relating to an alleged retainer with the firm regarding advice given on the Sea Containers 1990 Pension Scheme. The scheme attempted to equalise benefits for members, including between men and women.
But in judgment last week Master Karen Shuman rejected the claim. She also critcised Dentons for an application it made to submit further evidence.
The main issue in dispute is a professional negligence claim brought by trustees of the 1990 scheme against Sedgwick and another defendant for advice on the administration of the scheme. This judgment, however, relates to an additional claim for indemnity or a contribution brought by Sedgwick against Dentons relating to the alleged retainer.
Dentons, referred to under its former name of Denton Hall, provided legal advice at various times but denied it was operating under a retainer. Sedgwick provided administrative, consultancy and actuarial services but not legal services.
Dentons said its advice related to purely employment law issues but Master Shuman said the firm’s role was ‘arguably more extensive’. However, Master Shuman said it is ’a matter for the defendants to prove a duty arising in contract or in tort and the scope of that duty.’
Master Shuman said this was not an appropriate case for summary judgment. ‘I consider that the claim has a realistic as opposed to a fanciful prospect of success. I do not need to determine that the claim is bound to succeed, simply that it is a realistic claim, that there is some degree of conviction.’
In a note at the end of the judgment Master Shuman is also critical of an application by Dentons to produce further evidence. The judgment states: ‘Unless it is a matter of extreme urgency I would expect such applications to be made by application notice and supported by evidence. When I say evidence, I am referring to a witness statement signed with a statement of truth, not a raft of correspondence sent in piecemeal fashion to the court.’
Master Shuman said she agreed ‘entirely’ with Andrew Mold, counsel for Sedgwick, who observed during the hearing that parties are required to submit evidence in advance. ‘Adherence to this process is essential for reasons of procedural fairness and practical efficiency. If it is not followed, or departed from without good reason, it leads to unfairness and an unjustifiable use of the court’s and parties’ resources.’
A spokesperson for Dentons declined to indicate if the firm would appeal but told the Gazette: ‘We believe the claim against Dentons to be without merit and note the master’s criticisms of the plaintiff’s pleadings in this regard.’
Farhaz Khan of 3VB, instructed by CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang, acted for Dentons. For Sedgwick, Andrew Mold of Wilberforce Chambers, was instructed by Stephenson Harwood.