A High Court judge has narrowly allowed a case to survive despite a wait of almost three years following the identification of a party. Solicitors for the claimant in Gregory v H J Haynes had applied for the limitation period to be extended after a fruitless search for the defendant’s insurer had taken them past the initial three-year limitation date.
But once the insurers were found, the claimant had taken almost three years to issue proceedings, a period even his solicitors accepted was ‘drift’.
Mr Justice Mann said the claimant and his solicitors had delayed pursuing the case ‘for no good reason’.
Even if the defendant was not prejudiced by the delay, the judge said a claimant could not expect to be able to wait as long as he liked. The judge added: ‘Apart from anything else, the good discipline which delays in a claim really requires would be compromised if parties and their solicitors could just become lazy on the footing that it does not really matter any more in terms of prejudice to the defendant.’
But the judge ultimately favoured an extension, saying the delay was ‘attributable to the solicitors and not dilatoriness on the part of the claimant himself’.
The claimant, a roofer employed by the defendant for over a decade, was exposed to asbestos through his work and now suffers from pleural thickening and is at risk of mesothelioma and asbestiosis.
He first acquired knowledge of his disease in 2008, setting the timer running for the limitation period. But despite repeated attempts by his solicitors, an insurer could not be identified. It was only in 2014 that the defendant’s insurers were traced, and a claim was filed three years later at Portsmouth County Court.
The defendant had blamed the claimant for delays in the process which lead to periods of inactivity between 2008 and 2014. This was supported by the decision of District Judge Bell.
On appeal, Mr Justice Mann said it was not possible to see what more the claimant could realistically and sensibly have done in this period.