All pending court actions brought by former coalminers who allege their solicitors did not claim adequate government compensation on their behalf have been suspended pending a special hearing in April, the Gazette has learned.
The miners allege their solicitors did not claim adequate compensation for vibration white finger (VWF), a disease caused by vibrating mining tools. Judge Hawkesworth QC has ordered that all such actions should be stayed pending the hearing of a number of test issues between 11 and 13 April in Leeds County Court.
The outcome of the hearing will shape the future of all cases alleging under-settlement of VWF claims under the government’s coal health compensation scheme. A Gazette investigation in July 2009 suggested up to 50,000 VWF claims might have been under-settled.
The cases centre on solicitors’ alleged failure to claim for VWF ‘services’ damages, a category of damages intended to compensate miners for the costs of assistance with everyday tasks.
Hawkesworth has ordered that all such cases should now be defined as part of the ‘VWF Professional Negligence Litigation’. It is understood he could issue directions for all future VWF professional negligence cases after the hearing, which will examine the admissibility of medical evidence and expert witnesses.
Four law firms that are defending six cases on the matter will inform the hearing in April. Oldham firm Mellor Hargreaves is bringing the actions on behalf of the claimant miners.
Yorkshire firm Raleys and West Yorkshire firm Saffmans (which is incorporated into Leeds firm Godloves) are each defending two cases. Doncaster firm Beresfords (now trading as Keypoint Law) and Salford firm Branton Bridge (since taken over by Eccles firm Calibre Solicitors and now trading as Manchester firm Legal Gateway Solicitors) are each defending one case.A Beresfords spokeswoman said: ‘We always endeavour to recover the appropriate amount of compensation and advise our clients accordingly. If we feel a complaint is without merit then we will contest it.’
Godloves managing partner Paul Carvis said: ‘We have already successfully defended a similar claim and intend to take a robust stance on this and any future claims.’
A spokesman for Raleys said: ‘We confirm there is a hearing of generic preliminary issues between 11 and 13 April 2011. The claims continue to be defended.’ Branton Bridge declined to comment.