The effect of “plebgate” on medical negligence claims

I’m sure many of you have heard of “plebgate” – the altercation Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP and Chief Whip at the time, had with the police during which the police officers in question alleged that he called them “plebs”.  Some of you may also be aware that Mr Mitchell is suing News Group Newspapers Limited alleging defamation for their reporting of this incident on the basis that it was untrue.  What fewer people may realise is the effect this case has had on the legal profession and the running of civil claims, including medical negligence claims.

In a civil claim, once court proceedings have been issued, both parties are required to file a costs budget of incurred and projected costs.  In Mr Mitchell’s case, his solicitors filed their costs budget 6 days late.  The court determined that as a result of it being filed late, Mr Mitchell is unable to recover his costs if he wins the case, other than the court fees he has incurred.  This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

This is a dramatic shift in the position of the courts.  In the past, the courts tended to adopt a fairly lenient approach if things were filed late and if the breach had not prejudiced the other side, you were usually given a chance to correct it with little penalty.  This is no longer the case.  Unless the breach or mistake is trivial, there must be good reason for it and if not, it appears the courts are taking a very strict approach with serious penalties being imposed.

As solicitors, it is ultimately our responsibility to ensure we comply with court orders.  However, we need your help as clients with the running of the claim and meeting any deadlines set by the court.  We aim to make your role as a client as easy as possible keeping you updated with the claim and upcoming steps so that you are fully aware of the need for your assistance and the time limits involved in your claim. We therefore ask our clients to respond when asked for information and to sign and return documents as soon as possible.  We are proud to be asked to bring claims on your behalf, but we never forget that these are your claims and that we work in partnership with you. With your co-operation we will always strive to get the best result possible for you.

Kathryn Watson – March 2014