The High Court has ruled that a woman pursuing a claim for her deceased son can recover the costs associated with attending his inquest.
His Honour Judge Pearce agreed with the costs judgment in Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service v Veevers that in principle the costs were recoverable, albeit still subject to detailed assessment.
The claimant’s son Stephen Hunt had been a firefighter killed following a fire in Manchester in 2013. The fire service admitted liability for his death and compensated the mother for her losses, while also agreeing to pay her reasonable costs. But during the assessment process, the issue arose whether Susan Veevers was entitled to recover the costs of preparing for and attending her son’s inquest: these costs came to £141,000 out of a total bill of around £334,000.
Lawyers for the fire service argued that inquest costs could not be considered reasonable or proportionate. They submitted there was no general entitlement on the part of a claimant to the costs of an inquest merely because it deals with facts related to a civil claim. The court was advised to be ‘cautious’ in looking at why the costs of the inquests were incurred, and told that it was not the responsibility of a defendant to a claim to meet such costs.
The claimant, represented by Thompsons Solicitors, submitted that liability had not been admitted before the inquest, despite the defendant having had the chance to confirm it had.
In judgment, HHJ Pearce noted that inquest costs were recoverable if they were incidental to the claim, and that the central issue here was whether the defendant had admitted liability or showed a willingness to satisfy the claim. If the position was not one of ‘unqualified admission’ then a costs judge was entitled to find inquest costs recoverable. The costs judge in this case had reached a decision ‘well within’ his remit and decided that inquest costs were ‘of and incidental’ to the instant claim, and therefore recoverable. The appeal was dismissed.
Following the ruling, Thompsons’ head of costs Julian Caddick said: ‘The negligent defendants were not prepared to make a proper admission of liability and on that basis sought to escape meeting the costs of the deceased’s family’s representation at the inquest. The decision is very much welcomed as it means bereaved families can be properly represented at inquests in similarly unfortunate circumstances.'