A former client who threatened his solicitors with legal action over deductions from his damages has been told he cannot pursue the case.
Sitting in Sweeney v Wise Solicitors Ltd, Costs Judge Rowley said the claimant Andrew Sweeney had effectively consented to the deductions by signing an authority form sent to him by the York firm.
Sweeney then made what the judge called a ‘barely veiled threat’ to bring a claim against the firm, having been in contact with a legal marketing company, which introduced him to JG Solicitors.
The case is the latest in a long line of court decisions relating to claims led by JG Solicitors and checkmylegalfees.com, which have seen thousands of former clients pursue personal injury lawyers in a bid to recover fees.
In Sweeney, the claimant had received two interim payments totalling £3,000 and a further £10,000 as a final sum following an accident at work. When the interim payments were made, it was stated by the firm that any deductions would be accounted for at the end of the case.
When the final payment of £10,000 was received, the firm claimed the maximum 25% allowed of the damages as a success fee and calculated the deduction at £3,250. Sweeney disputed this and insisted it should be £2,500.
When he spoke to the firm, Sweeney said he had heard of the ‘PPI thing going round now’ and said he had received a call from a company saying he could claim back solicitors’ fees.
The firm sent a letter setting out its position and the proposed £3,250 deduction, with the authority returned within eight minutes having been signed by Sweeney. The claimant later tried to argue that he was in severe financial difficulty and thought this was the only way to get his compensation quickly. The court heard that while waiting for the firm’s letter to arrive, Sweeney had lodged an enquiry with a legal marketing company about a possible claim against his solicitors.
Costs Judge Rowley said the invoices had been delivered to the claimant and so he was entitled in principle to bring section 70 proceedings to recover costs.
But proceedings needed to be commenced by 25 August 2021 (one month after delivery). In the event, Sweeney only instructed JG Solicitors on 23 September and began court proceedings on 4 October.
The judge rejected the argument that the authority signed by Sweeney was void, adding there was nothing to suggest he was pressured into it.
Given the delay in bringing proceedings, Sweeney needed to demonstrate ‘special circumstances’ to be able to make a claim, but the judge found none.
Rowley added: ‘The cost of proceeding to a detailed assessment would far outweigh the value of the invoices being assessed. Unless there is a good reason for the detailed assessment proceedings to take place, then the defendant would be prejudiced by having to incur its own costs in defending the claim and with no guarantee of recovering those costs if successful. In the absence of special circumstances, there is no such good reason.’
The firm’s application strike out the claim succeeded. It is understood that the claimant has given notice he will appeal the decision.
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