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Asbestos victim can use Central London firm

13 April 2010

An asbestosis victim from Broadstairs in Kent was entitled to instruct solicitors in Central London to pursue his damages claim, the High Court has ruled.

William Higgins was 82 when he was diagnosed with asbestosis by a consultant in Margate, who mentioned the name of Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) solicitors in Central London. Higgins had been exposed to asbestos while working for the Ministry of Defence in Devonport.

Giving judgment in Higgins v Ministry of Defence [2010] EWHC 654 (QB), Mr Justice Tugendhat said that Higgins entered into a conditional fee agreement with FFW, and the firm entered a maximum hourly rate of £345.

Counsel for the MoD argued that this was excessive and other solicitors in Kent and Greater London were available who could have worked for less.

“It was not suggested that there were any solicitors in Broadstairs with the relevant expertise, or that the case had a greater link with any location other than with London,” Tugendhat J said.

“Other solicitors who were identified were in other towns in Kent, including Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone. It was even suggested that solicitors should have been chosen from Essex and Wimbledon.”

Counsel for the MoD submitted that, according to the guidelines for summary assessment, the recoverable hourly rate would have been up to £200 for Kent and up to £250 for Outer London firms.

The court heard that Higgins died weeks after a settlement was agreed with the MoD, under which he received £112,500 exclusive of costs. FFW claimed just under £16,000 in profit costs, disbursements and VAT.

“I see no point of principle,” Tugendhat J said. “It is not in dispute that a reasonable litigant will normally be expected to investigate the hourly rates of solicitors whom he might instruct, and that he will normally be expected to consider a number of other factors, including the time and costs associated with geographical location, before choosing whom to instruct, and to take advice on these and other matters before he does so.”

The appeal was dismissed.

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