Coal miner's case may open the floodgates


According to Kelvin Farmaner, a solicitor at Southampton and Salisbury based Trethowans Solicitors, a recent decision concerning professional negligence arising out of a personal injury claim may lead to a flood of claims in the future.

In June Trethowans reported on the case of Susan Berney v Thomas Saul (T/A Thomas Saul & Co) 2013 in which the Court of Appeal gave judgment in a professional indemnity case arising out of a personal injury claim.  The judgment did nothing to quell the worry amongst professional indemnity insurers (and some solicitors) that there is likely to be an increase in the number of  professional negligence claims against solicitors arising from the way in which historic personal injury cases have been conducted.  A decision this month arising out of a coal mining case further reinforces these concerns.

Former coal miner, Ronald Barnaby, was awarded nearly £7,500 in damages in a claim for professional negligence at Leeds County Court. Mr Barnaby had previously instructed a firm of solicitors to pursue a claim under the government's coal health compensation scheme, which provided compensation for miners who had developed a condition called vibration white finer. Compensation under the scheme was based on a tariff.

Mr Barnaby settled his personal injury claim for a little over £10,000, having abandoned a services claim made for help he needed with household tasks. In the professional negligence claim Barnaby stated that he abandoned that head of claim due to negligent advice from his solicitors. Judge Gosnell agreed stating that "On balance, if properly advised, I find that he would probably have rejected the offer and pursued the services claim".

Both of these cases come after the high profile case of Kenny Jordan, reported on by Trethowans last October.  In the wake of that case commentators believed that some law firms reliance on under-qualified staff, a lack of face to face contact with clients and a failure to understand medical reports all contribute to a trend of increasing numbers of claims. Changes to litigation funding were likely to increase financial pressures further. This latest case does nothing to quell these fears.