A costs judge has slashed a claimant’s bill by more than £20,000 after ruling the work could have been done by a cheaper lawyer.
Master O’Hare allowed a provisional total of £9,879 following the settlement of a clinical negligence claim for £3,500.
The claimant firm, Simpson Millar, had submitted a costs bill for more than £32,000 after allocating the work to a Grade A fee-earner charging £300 an hour.
But O’Hare said the case, involving a pensioner whose treatment had been delayed for five weeks by his hospital’s mistake, was appropriate for a Grade B fee-earner claiming £200 an hour.
He dismissed arguments that the case was of such public importance and sufficiently complex to require a more expensive lawyer.
‘To my mind the claim had no complexity worthy of mention and no public importance,’ said the judge, who added that Simpson Millar’s submissions ‘significantly overestimated’ the difficulty of the case and ‘substantially underestimated’ the abilities of the average Grade B fee-earner.
O’Hare said the case required two tests of proportionality as work was carried out before and after the 2013 Jackson reforms.
He stated it was better to target particular items of work which it was disproportionate to do in the circumstances.
In the event, he disallowed £600 costs of a consultant anaesthetist and costs incurred through the claimant firm’s initial Part 36 offer to settle for £10,000.
The judge said although it was reasonable for the claimant to incur these costs, it was unfair to expect the defendant to pay them.
O’Hare accepted it was true that the claim would have been avoided if the defendant, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, had accepted liability and volunteered compensation in 2011 when the complaint was made, or in 2012 when the solicitor’s letter was sent.
‘However, the ordinary steps taken by the defendant in these years do not, in my judgement, amount to conduct which put the solicitors to “additional” work in this case.’
He noted it was proportionate to allow expenditure on medical records and expert reports in complex claims such as clinical negligence.
A spokesman for Simpson Millar said the firm is considering an appeal.
‘Our position remains that this was a very complex case in which a number of experts had to be instructed and we contend that it was appropriate for a senior fee-earner to deal with the matter.
‘It would be inappropriate to comment further on the matter at this time.’