A husband and wife have to secure anything more than nominal damages after alleging their lawyers’ negligence stopped them making an initial claim against another law firm.
The claimants in Waraich & Anor v Ansari Solicitors (A firm) said they were not advised by the defendant Manchester firm to issue their initial claim within the limitation period. This caused, they alleged, delay in the husband obtaining definite leave to remain in the UK and in turn caused them to lose the chance of getting British nationality sooner.
The couple claimed for more than £820,000 from Ansari Solicitors to cover loss of earnings, extra legal costs, loss of capacity to get mortgages or loans and the stress and inconvenience caused.
Breach of duty was admitted by the defendant on the basis of the breach of an admitted retainer and common law duty of care. But the firm denied the claimants suffered any resultant loss, saying the initial claim was doomed to failure and the valuation of the claim was exaggerated.
Following a five-day hearing last month, His Honour Judge Pearce, sitting as a judge of the High Court at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, said the claimants had failed to show they lost anything of value in their initial claim. He awarded nominal damages for a contractual claim but threw out the claim in tort on the ground nothing was lost from the breach of duty.
This claim was for the loss of a chance of success in an action against the couple’s previous solicitors, an action which itself involved the loss of a chance of a successful immigration application.
The husband said he should not have been advised to make an application for indefinite leave to remain, but rather should have sought an extension of his work permit and an associated extension of leave to remain. This course would probably, the claimants submitted, have retained their right to be in the UK and avoided them being in the country as overstayers (with the consequent financial losses).
The judge described the husband’s evidence on the issue of lost earnings as ‘hopelessly contradictory’ and said he had ‘grave concerns’ about its reliability and honesty. Mr Ansari, giving evidence for the firm, was found to be a ‘reasonably convincing’ witness, although the judge had concerns about a solicitor advancing such a ‘highly speculative’ initial claim.
The judge concluded the claimants had lost the chance to pursue a claim of only ‘very modest value’, the costs of doing which would have far exceeded that value.