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Miners’ compensation firms could face ‘thousands’ of negligence claims

County court rules in favour of claimants but doubts over post-Jackson funding

8 August 2013

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A negligence ruling against one of the law firms which handled claims under the miners' compensation scheme could be the first of 'thousands', the former miner's solicitor has said.

Ronald Barnaby was awarded £7,400 by Leeds County Court at the end of last month for his claim against Yorkshire firm Raleys, in what is understood to be the first professional negligence ruling.

In the wake of the miner's compensation scandal, the SDT took action against a number of firms, including Raleys.

Rob Godfrey, partner and head of professional negligence at Mellor Hargreaves in Oldham, said the firm had 126 live cases involving the miners' compensation scheme, seven of which had been listed for trial before the end of November.

Godfrey said his firm had settled around 30 to 40 further negligence cases and had offered to discuss Barnaby's claim with Raleys.

"Why they chose to fight this claim, I've no idea," Godfrey said. "The judgment as it stands is very damning, but it gives an indication of the advice that should have been given by the firm.

"This case is like so many others. Solicitors representing the miners failed to properly advise claimants and importantly, ensure the clients were armed with all the facts available to enable them to make an informed decision.

"A number of firms dealt with thousands of claimants, the majority of whom were never seen at interview but were simply 'processed' through questionnaires."

Godfrey added that all the firms' cases, including Barnaby, had received the benefit of CFAs and ATE insurance premiums taken out before the Jackson reforms.

"Going forward it is difficult to see how these claims can be funded without reasonable ATE premiums."

Leeds County Court heard that Ronald Barnaby had developed Vibration White Finger after working for the National Coal Board for 16 years and a further year for a private company.

Barnaby claimed against both employers under the DTI compensation scheme and agreed to settle his claim in 2002 for £10,800 plus interest.

He argued that he abandoned a claim for the services he needed because of his disability as a result of the negligent advice given to him by Raleys.

Raleys argued that he was competently advised and decided not to pursue the claim for his own reasons.

Delivering judgment in Barnaby v Raleys Solicitors (case no. 1LS03193), Judge Gosnell said the claimant gave evidence that he was suffering from VWF since about 1989, and shortly after that had required help with various services, including car washing, car maintenance, cleaning windows and gardening.

"He said that he had wished to make a services claim but when he was told about the offer in December 2002 he decided to accept it as he needed the money," Judge Goswell said.

"He had planned a surprise holiday for himself and his wife in June 2003 to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and he needed to pay for the holiday soon."

Judge Goswell concluded that the claimant's original claim for services had a "real and substantial prospect of success that was more than negligible".

He said his best assessment of Barnaby's statistical chances was 75 per cent.

Carol Gill, managing partner of Raleys Solicitors, said: "We are very disappointed with the judgment in this individual case and are considering an appeal.

"The court heard that Raleys represented miners in 12,297 VWF claims and of the 2,555 that included claims for services our success rate was 97 per cent."

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Professional negligence