A judge has thrown out a professional negligence claim lodged against a Norfolk law firm by an aggrieved business executive.
In a High Court judgment handed down yesterday, judge Sir David Eady said he had ‘no alternative’ but to dismiss the claim, brought by Graham Seery against full-service firm Leathes Prior.
Seery brought the claim against the firm after a settlement agreement that stemmed from a dispute with two of his ex-colleagues at a business called FWA West between 2007 and 2008.
Seery, a minority shareholder and finance director at the company, was in dispute with the two remaining shareholders and directors, referred to in the judgment as ‘Messrs Boswell and Causer’.
Seery claimed he was wrongfully excluded by the pair from participating in the management of the company.
He previously instructed what was then UK firm SJ Berwin to help negotiate settlement terms but was unable to come up with a deal.
He switched to Leathes Prior after moving to the area. Dan Chapman, a partner at the firm, acted on Seery’s behalf.
In 2008, an agreement was made. Seery was paid £317,000, which included a £7,000 contribution to legal costs – though he had previously said he should be due in excess of £1m, given his role as a shareholder.
Among the claims Seery made was that Chapman could have encouraged litigation, which might have led to a more favourable outcome.
However, the judgment said that although the option would have been considered by the firm, it would have been ‘a costly, acrimonious, long-drawn-out fight’, which was exactly what Seery wanted to avoid.
Eady said there was no evidence that Seery would have received a better outcome had he been encouraged to sue.
Seery also suggested that he had suffered from stress and was unable to take on board the legal advice he was given, in particular, that which he had previously received from SJ Berwin.
However, Eady said Seery did not tell Chapman at the time that he did not understand the advice and that much of the advice was in writing and could have been reread at any time.
He added that a solicitor ‘… will have fulfilled his duty if he gives an explanation in terms the client reasonably appears to him to be able to understand, and to have understood, even if the client later alleges that he did not in fact understand what was said.’
Eady added that if it was true that Seery was suffering from stress, this would have confirmed Chapman’s advice that uncertain and stressful litigation was not in his interests.
Concluding, Eady said: ‘There is nothing to be gained by exploring the pleaded case on contributory negligence, or entering further into the arguments about expert evidence on valuation, an exercise which would have been in my view too speculative to have been of much practical use anyway.'
He added that the claimant received a ‘very good service from the firm in the difficult circumstances in which he found himself’.