A firm of solicitors has been found liable for failing to properly advise clients about what damages they are entitled to claim for in a personal injury claim. This highlights the importance of ensuring that clients, particularly those inexperienced in litigation, are properly advised in such cases and that too much reliance is not placed on standard form letters and procedures.
The claim was brought by a former miner who had contracted vibration white finger. He alleged that the firm had failed to advise him about possible damages for the value of services provided to him by others.
The judge said that the standard of care owed by the solicitors was that of “a reasonably competent solicitor” specialising in industrial disease claims (Green v Collyer Bristow  Lloyd’s Reports P.N. 798).
The solicitors had not seen the client and explained what sort of things he might claim for. Instead they relied on three letters to the client, as evidence that they had provided appropriate information about the services claim. Solicitors conducting high volumes of litigation frequently make extensive use of questionnaires and standard letters, and have little if any personal contact with the client. However, this increases the risk that some clients will not understand and so valuable claims might not be made. There had been other cases where clients had not understood that they had a services claim until it had been explained in a meeting or telephone call.
The judge held the solicitors were in breach of their duty. He said that they should have done more to ensure that their client understood their advice. It was reasonably foreseeable that the client in this case might not fully understand the system and what claims he could make.
The decision comes at a time when government cuts in litigation funding have led many firms to seek to standardise and streamline their procedures so as to be able to continue to conduct personal injury cases profitably.
The case is a clear warning that solicitors cut corners at their peril.