Relatives forced to abandon an industrial disease claim have successfully sued their former solicitors after a crucial mistake during the evidence-gathering process. 

The High Court ordered in Hanbury & Anor v Hugh James Solicitors (A firm) that the top 100 practice should pay around £104,000 to the family of a former insulation engineer who died of lung cancer in 2010. 

The relatives had instructed Hugh James to pursue an asbestos-related disease claim, but they dropped the case in November 2012 after a doctor’s report concluded there was insufficient evidence to link the man’s condition to his asbestos exposure.The court heard that the doctor had seen the deceased’s GP and hospital records but, crucially, not the post-mortem report or mineral fibre analysis. 

The claimants said Hugh James was negligent in failing to send these documents to the expert and failing to spot this mistake when the report was subsequently filed. It was accepted that, had the extra evidence been available, the report would have been materially different. The claimants submitted that the case would have proceeded either at trial or through settlement. 

Hugh James initially denied breach of duty and contended that, even if a breach was made out, causation was not established. By the conclusion of the trial, breach of duty of duty was conceded, but the firm continued to deny that the claimants lost anything of real value in the underlying claim. 

Mrs Justice Yip, sitting in the High Court Queen’s Bench Division, concluded that the claimants had good prospects of succeeding at trial against some or all of the defendant employers. 

‘[Hugh James’] admitted breach of duty led to this claim being discontinued,’ she said. ‘But for that breach, a favourable medical opinion would have been obtained... and would have been served on the proposed defendants.’ The firm would have insisted that medical causation was demonstrated, the judge said, and offers of settlement would have been invited. 

The judge assessed the full value of the claim as £217,256 and she applied a 20% deduction for contributory negligence (the deceased was a smoker). She assessed the claimants would have recovered 60% of the claim value. Assuming settlement would have been achieved in late 2013, the claimants can also recover interest assessed from 1 January 2014. 

A spokesperson for Hugh James said: 'We note the comments from Mrs Justice Yip but it would be inappropriate for us to respond at this time.'