The NHS Litigation Authority has reported an ‘unprecedented’ level of new claims as personal injury solicitors branch out into clinical negligence.
The authority’s annual report, published this week, has revealed that the number of clinical negligence claims rose by almost 18% in a year, from 10,129 in 2012/13 to 11,945 in 2013/14.
The rise has been attributed primarily to claimant solicitor firms entering the clinical negligence market after seeing profits from other areas squeezed.
Reduced fixed costs in motor PI claims, the litigation authority suggests, have attracted a number of new entrants as clinical negligence is an area where hourly rates still apply.
The report says: ‘[The authority] is dealing with more than ever new claimant solicitors. We have also seen an increase in poorly investigated claims and claims where the care clearly was not negligent being brought by lawyers who do not specialise in clinical negligence work.’
The report also says claimant lawyers have ‘frontloaded’ costs prior to notification to the authority. By undertaking significant investigations of some claims pre-notification, they are not subject to costs budgeting requirements by the courts, which apply only after the pre-litigation period.
The report adds: ‘Significant costs are often incurred even before the claim reaches us, which can result in a disproportionate costs claim by the claimant’s lawyers compared to the damages payable to the claimant and mean that more monies can be paid to lawyers than patients.’
The authority said for one settlement of a claim for damages worth £1,000, it received a bill from the claimant’s solicitors totalling £83,131. This was later reduced by a judge to less than £5,000. In another matter the claimant firm tried to charge £1,440 per hour.
The litigation authority's chief executive Catherine Dixon said expenditure figures for 2013/14 showed that, of the £1.193bn spent on clinical negligence claims, 22% (£259m) was spent on claimant solicitors compared with 8% (£92m) on defence legal costs.
Dixon added: ‘We experienced some claimant solicitors attempting to charge excessive and disproportionate costs and we challenged these costs, saving £75m for the NHS.’
The number of claims closed continued to rise, with 15,384 closed last year compared with 14,232 in 2012/13.
This week we reported concerns that inexperienced practitioners are turning to the medical negligence specialism in search of quick wins.