A claimant firm has failed in a High Court challenge to a judgment that more than halved its success fee.

Carol Bright, represented by national firm Irwin Mitchell, had appealed against an order by a costs judge to reduce the success fee for her case from 75% to 30%.

Bright had been left tetraplegic after a vehicle reversed into her in 2010 and had signed a conditional fee agreement with Irwin Mitchell when she was in hospital.

The CFA provided for a two-stage success fee, with 50% payable if the claim settled before three months before the trial date or the opening of the trial window and 100% if it was settled after.

On 26 April 2012, five days before a liability trial, the claim settled for a lump-sum payment of £1.6m with period annual payments of £230,000.

On 3 October 2012 the claimant served a notice of commencement together with a bill of costs, which included a 75% success fee. The defendant in the case, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau, challenged that claim and offered 30%.

In judgment last August, Master Rowley said the defendant’s offer of 30% reflected the ‘real risk’ of establishing negligence.

The Master said that not all cases should be taken as having a 50/50 chance of success when they get to court and so justify a 100% success fee.

He concluded that it would not be ‘reasonable’ to increase percentage uplift from 30%, adding that the figure reflected the ‘general risk’ that the case would settle close to the trial.  

In her judgment on the one-day hearing, published today, Mrs Justice Slade agreed that the risk was reduced as it was known when the CFA was signed the defendant would ‘hard pressed’ to contest liability.

She dismissed the claimants, adding that it was not suggested that any increase was built into the success fee to take account of non-recoverability of costs or disbursements. 

She said the detailed assessment of costs should be remitted to Master Rowley and ordered that the claimant pay the Motor Insurers’ Bureau its costs for the appeal.