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By William Jones

Jun 22nd, 2020

Solicitors' Inactivity no Bar to Late Claim

In the recent case of Gregory v H J Haynes [2020] the claimant was allowed to pursue his claim 6 whole years out of time despite the Judge criticising the huge delay caused, in part, by his solicitors’ inactivity.

The claimant, a roofer who has developed pleural thickening, and his solicitors were unable to track down the defendant’s insurers from the date of the claimant’s first acquired knowledge in 2008 until 2014. However, even when the defendant’s insurers were identified, the claim was still not issued for a further three years.

The claimant’s solicitors applied to extend the limitation period which was ultimately granted in spite of the significant delay.

Initially, the District Judge blamed the claimant for the delays between 2008 and 2014. However, on appeal Mr Justice Mann found that there was realistically no more that the claimant could have done to locate the relevant insurers during this period.

In relation to the further three year delay caused by the claimant’s solicitors’ procrastination, Mr Justice Mann found that whilst there was ‘no good reason’ for failing to pursue the claim, as this was down to the claimant’s solicitors’ inactivity, it was equitable to grant the extension.

This case follows in the footsteps of Greater Manchester Police v Carroll [2017] which concerned an undercover police officer who was negligently exposed to drugs in the course of his employment and became addicted. Proceedings were issued in November 2013, more than three years after the claimant became aware that his drug addiction was attributable to his employment.

However, despite the claim being brought out of time, the Judge exercised his discretion and allowed the claim to proceed, and in doing so, offered a number of guiding principles to be considered when deciding whether a claim should be time barred. 

One such principle is whether the delay is caused by the conduct of the claimant’s solicitors, a concept which was dealt with in the earlier case of Corbin v Penfold Metallising Company Ltd [2000] wherein the Court found that the failings of the claimant’s solicitor should not be to the detriment of a claimant who acted promptly in instructing them.

In Greater Manchester, it was of particular relevance that the claimant had instructed his solicitor only four months after the expiry of the limitation period, and it was his solicitors who then delayed for a further year in the incorrect belief that the claim was still within the relevant limitation period. 

Recent decisions make very clear that Judges are reluctant to penalise the claimant for their solicitors’ inaction, not only in cases where the claimant’s solicitors have in honest belief, calculated the limitation period incorrectly, but also in circumstances where the delay is simply down to their failure to deal with the claim promptly and efficiently. 

This is an unfortunate decision for defendants and appears to extend even further the concept that a claimant will not be barred by his solicitors’ (even very significant) default.

This article was written by Charlotte Levy, Solicitor in Langleys' Insurance Team. 

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