By Ben Rose, professional negligence expert, Neil Hudgell Solicitors.
Between 1999 and 2012, £1.7 billion was paid to miners who suffered vibration injuries whilst working for the National Coal Board, British Coal Corporation and UK Coal. Hundreds of millions of pounds were also paid to solicitors to advise the miners how to make these claims and the reasonableness of any compensation offers made to them.
But one particular firm – Raleys Solicitors – failed to advise their clients properly and on November 6 2013 His Honour Judge Gosnell, sitting at Leeds County Court, ruled against Raleys Solicitors for the second time for giving injured miners negligent advice.
Miners entitled to claim more for vibration injuries
The case in question was that of Mr Procter. He had received £11,141 for his injuries but could have, had he received the correct advice, received almost double that amount. This is because Mr Procter was entitled to make a claim for the tasks he was no longer able to do for himself as a result of his injuries such as DIY, decorating and car maintenance.
Mr Procter is not alone in losing out on compensation: many miners whose vibration injury compensation case was settled by supposed experts are also now discovering that they were wrongly advised and did not receive sufficient compensation.
In Mr Procter’s case, Raleys had sent him a number of standard initial questionnaires to complete, followed by standard letters containing advice about his settlement.
His Honour Judge Gosnell denounces Raleys Solicitors
“These three letters are crucial to this claim as they appear to contain the sum total of advice that the claimant received. The claimant claims that he never had any face-to-face meeting with any lawyer employed by the defendants and the defendants have not called any witnesses to give evidence that they actually gave any particular advice. The defendants have relied on Mr Barber who was a partner at the relevant time who can give evidence that the file shows that the letters were sent and that, in his view, the contents of the letters represent sufficient advice.”
HHJ Gosnell, Para. 10
Entitled to service claims
Raleys had advised Mr Procter to settle his claim in November 2003 for £11,141 without making any allowance for the fact he could no longer mow his lawn, wash his car or even change a plug due to his injuries; despite noting on the file that he could not do this. All these difficulties meant Mr Procter could have filed for service claims to pay for the costs of getting assistance with these activities. But, no-one from Raleys met Mr Procter and no-one asked him about this claim. Raley’s defence was that Mr Procter had not told them about these limitations that he was suffering as a result of his vibration injuries.
A specialist solicitor should normally ask questions to ensure a client has provided the information required to progress the claim. A solicitor should not rely on a client to know what information is needed and should be shared.
The Judge in the case centring on the treatment received by Mr Procter went on to pose an interesting question regarding that duty;
“What would a reasonably competent practitioner specialising in this type of work have done? Would he or she send out a series of long standardised letters to their client and expect him to tick the correct boxes on the tick box form to reflect his instructions or should they have a discussion with the client and try to ensure that he has not only read but understood the correspondence… In my view however it was not too much to ask the solicitor to directly consult with the client to advise him in layman’s terms”
HHJ Gosnell, Paras. 26-29
The Judge’s views on Raley’s actions were understandably scathing, having already condemned the same firm not six months previously for the same behaviour. The implications of this ruling are that in future any solicitor will find it difficult to find an excuse for not having at least a telephone conversation with a client regarding an offer.
Nearly double compensation
In Mr Procter’s case, he would have recovered more than £11,000 on top of his £11,141 – had the claim been made properly.
Mr Procter, like many thousands of others, was a victim of the systems used by Raleys which were designed to process the highest number of claimants for the minimum cost. The firm had already been subject to findings against them by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for their conduct of these files in 2009.
Raleys alone handled over 12,200 claims for injured miners suffering from vibration injuries including Vibration White Finger, Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome and Work Related Upper Limb Disorder, taking over £15 million for their work*. Of these 12200 claims, less than 21% included service claims**.
The Scheme paid out to over 170,000 claimants in total.*
Find out what you could be entitled to even if you’ve already claimed for vibration injuries
If you made a claim to the Vibration Scheme but never made a claim for services such as DIY, decorating and assistance with car maintenance then you too may be entitled to further assistance. Contact our specialist solicitors for a confidential consultation as soon as possible.
**Barnaby v Raleys Solicitors (2013) at para 16