Claimant’s claim against his own Solicitor struck out!
Claimant’s claim against his own Solicitor struck out in the case of Sweeney v Wise Solicitors Limited  EWHC 2314 (SCCO).
The Claimant instructed the Defendant firm of Solicitors in a personal injury action. He received £3,000.00 by way of an interim payment. This was provided to the Claimant with advice that any deductions would be made at the end of the claim. The Claimant received a further £10,000.00 on settlement of the claim on the 26th July 2021. The Defendant firm deducted 25% of the total damages (£13,000.00) by way of fees. The Claimant objected on the basis that he believed the deduction would be 25% of £10,000.00. In response the Defendant provided invoices breaking down the fees and the deduction.
The Claimant confirmed that he would bring an action to recover 25% if the deduction was not discounted. The Claimant argued that he signed the consent form at the outset of the claim allowing the firm to do this under sufferance as he needed the money. The Claimant issued an application under s70 of the Solicitors Act 1974 seeking an assessment of the costs. However, the claim was not commenced until more that 30 days had elapsed since the Defendant had provided the invoices, in breach of the time limit provided for by the Act.
The Defendant Solicitors sought to strike out the action on two different grounds. Firstly, that the bills could not be assessed because the formalities had not been completed. Secondly if the bills had been delivered, the assessment could only continue if the Claimant could show special circumstances that allowed him to bring a claim out of time.
1. Had Statute bills been delivered?
The Costs Judge found that the final statute bills had been delivered to the Claimant and so he was entitled to bring s70 proceedings in principle based upon the two invoices delivered to him by the Defendant.
2. Had the Bills been paid?
The Costs Judge found that the bill had been paid when the moneys were deducted from damages and accounted for to the Claimant.
3. Could the Claimant show ‘special circumstances’ to allow an assessment out of time?
The Costs Judge found that the bills had been paid on the 26th July 2021. The Claimant needed to issue proceedings by the 25th August 2021. The Judge found that there were no special circumstances.
Costs Judge 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 Defendant’s application to strike out the claim succeeded, and the Claimant’s application was dismissed.
A Claimant who threatened his Solicitors with legal action over deductions from his damages was told he could not pursue his claim as he had effectively consented to the deductions by signing a form of authority sent to him. The Costs Judge found no special circumstances to allow the Claimant to have his bills assessed out of time.
Partners in Costs are specialists in costs litigation and can provide guidance on the appropriate advice to be given to clients when providing them with details of their fees so as to combat any potential arguments on assessment.
Kelly-Anne Kent, Senior Costs Consultant.