Lord Justice Jackson has expressed his contempt for a firm that recruited a claimant and ‘turned his head’ to bring negligence proceedings. In the Court of Appeal Jackson said it was ‘regrettable’ that north west firm Mellor Hargreaves had persuaded a former miner to bring an action against his previous solicitors to ‘top up’ a damages award.
The judge said Mellor Hargreaves, which went into administration this summer, had given the claimant information which made him ‘prepared to advance incorrect assertions’. In Graham Thomas v Hugh James Ford Simey Solicitors, Jackson said: ‘The civil justice system exists to enable injured parties to recover compensation for genuine wrongs It does not exist to service artificial claims stirred up by advertisements.’
Thomas, a coal miner for 17 years, had already settled a claim for £6,000 with the National Coal Board after losing a finger through an accident at work.
In early 2000 it emerged that miners were making claims for a condition known as vibration white finger (VWF) and Thomas joined those claiming compensation.
He was offered £10,373 in general damages in January 2001 and the case was settled for roughly that amount the next month, with his firm paid £607 in costs.
Seven years later, after advertising for new business, Mellor Hargreaves ‘came on the scene’, Jackson said, After taken its advice, Thomas started negligence proceedings. He argued that, if he had been properly advised for the VWF case, he would have recovered an extra £16,654 in respect of being unable to do decorating, DIY and gardening.
Hugh James Ford Simey denied liability, saying it had given proper advice and that a claim for special damages was not possible, as Thomas himself had denied there was evidence to support it and he did not wish to pursue it.
At trial in January 2016 in Leeds, where the claim was dismissed. Mr Recorder Cameron summarised that Thomas was an unreliable witness and the information given to him ‘bred a sense of grievance such that he is prepared to advance incorrect assertions’.
Jackson said the challenge to that decision, on the basis that Thomas was not given a valuation of the claim or informed about interim payments, had failed. The firm had met its requirements of the original retainer and it was Thomas’ decision not purse a claim for special damages.
‘There must be a sensible limit upon what we can expect solicitors to do in such cases,’ he said. ‘If a client instructs his solicitor that he does not wish to pursue a particular head of claim and that he does not have evidence to support it, the solicitor is not necessarily under a duty to challenge that decision or to try to change the client’s mind.’