piBlawg

the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Applicable Law in Tort under Rome II and English Case Management Decisions

    It’s one of the oldest chestnuts in private international law and has been brought into sharper focus by the Rome II Regulation on applicable law in tort. Assume that the English Claimant is catastrophically injured in a road traffic accident in France. The Claimant sues the tortfeasor’s French insurer in the English Courts (in line with his right to do so under section 3 of the Brussels I Regulation and the Odenbreit (2007) decision of the ECJ). Liability is not in issue and it is agreed that, by reason of Articles 4 and 15 of Rome II, French law will apply to the assessment of the Claimant’s damages. The Claimant wishes to rely on a panel of English experts (medico-legal and non-medical) of the kind usually instructed in catastrophic injury claims case managed and tried in this jurisdiction. The Defendant insurer, by contrast, wishes to restrict the Claimant to the sort of expertise that a French Court would rely upon (usually, one principal expert and a very limited number of additional experts). The Defendant’s argument is that the English Court – required to assess damages on a French law basis – needs, so far as possible, to adopt and replicate the approach that would be taken by a French Court. The Claimant argues that the selection and instruction of expert witnesses is a matter reserved to the law of the forum (English law) by reason of Article 1.3 of Rome II. An issue of just this kind arose in the very recent decision of Tugendhat J in Wall v Mutuelle de Poitiers Assurances [2013] QB 53 (QB). The following preliminary issue was tried, “Does the issue of which expert evidence the court should order fall to be determined: (a) By reference to the law of the forum (English Law) on the basis that this is an issue of ‘evidence and procedure’ within Article 1.3 of Rome II; or (b) By reference to the applicable law (French law) on the basis that this is an issue falling within Article 15 of Rome II?” The academic writing on this issue was somewhat mixed and inconclusive. However, Tugendhat J resolved the preliminary issue – thought to be the first time this question had been tried in this jurisdiction – by accepting the Claimant’s argument: the instruction of experts is a matter of evidence and procedure and, therefore, a matter for the law of the forum (English law). There is an application by the French insurer for permission to appeal.

Claimant’s solicitors pay wasted costs in RTA case

  The defendant insurers in the case of Rasoul v Linkevicius (5th October 2012, Unreported), successfully obtained a wasted costs order against claimant solicitors in an RTA claim. The case is a warning to claimant solicitors in RTA claims where there is an allegation of fraud and parties/witnesses who do not speak English. For defendants it is a lesson in how clear allegations set out from early on can have devastating consequences.  The background facts are similar to those commonly encountered in practice. Following the RTA correspondence ensued between the claimant’s solicitors and the defendant insurers. A modest PI claim was made and the insurers questioned the bona fides of the claim. The Defence pleaded fraud clearly against the claimant. He served a witness statement which did not have an integral statement of truth – the statement appeared on a separate sheet of paper rather than being part of the body of the statement itself. Two witnesses provided statements with statements of truth. At trial the claimant gave no evidence as only spoke Kurdish and was illiterate. His statement had been in English and not translated. The husband and wife witnesses were Kurdish. The husband spoke reasonable English but had given his statement over the phone to a solicitor he had not met and at trial he said that his statement was a substantial expansion of what he told the solicitor. The other witness (his wife) spoke no English – her husband translated for her whilst the solicitor took the statement over the phone. She gave evidence that she had never spoken to the solicitor before the statement arrived. Unsurprisingly the case was dismissed and the judge referred to either the extreme incompetence on the part of the solicitors or an attempt to establish a case on fabricated evidence. The insurer made an application for a waste costs order against the solicitors. The judge made an order on the basis that there was no evidence of a proper signed statement from the claimant or the witness taken before proceedings were issued. Although an interpreter turned up at trial he was not allowed to be used as there had been no order relating to his attendance. The judge was critical that the witnesses were not seen face to face by the solicitors given the allegations of fraud. He concluded that proper competent work by the solicitors would have ensured that the case collapsed long before the trial took place. Defendants will be alert to the possibility of pursuing claimant solicitors where fraud has been alleged, there has been incompetence on the part of claimant solicitors which, had it not taken place, would have been likely to have meant the case would not have gone ahead. Claimants will want to see witnesses and take statements face to face where there are allegations of fraud. They must ensure that a proper ‘integral’ statement of truth is signed on the witness statement. If someone is unable to speak English it is essential that a translator is involved in the process of taking the statement, that the statement is translated, the translator makes an appropriate statement (see Practice Direction to Part 32) and the presence of a translator at trial is anticipated by a court order. Careful preparation needs to be undertaken so that solicitors can protect themselves by showing that a witness did give the evidence set out in the statement – even if they deny it at trial and seek to blame it on the solicitors.  

The Rolls Royce of hire claims...

  This is the latest round in the Court of Appeal in the battle over car hire (Singh v Yaqubi [2013] EWCA Civ 23). The rear door of Mr Singh’s Roller was dented in a road traffic accident. The car took 54 days to repair and the hire bill claimed from the defendant was £92,953.90. Mr Singh was in partnership with Mr Thakrar in a property development business and the Rolls Royce was one of the fleet of seven vehicles owned by the partnership. The judge dismissed the hire claim in its entirety. In doing so he admitted to anxious thoughts about ‘whether the ever increasing insurance premiums of the ordinary motorist, particularly one struggling to make ends meet and needing a modest car to go to work, should in some part be used so that the rich may continue at no expense to themselves to be filled with good things that they think they need.’ In response to Mr Singh’s case that he used the Rolls Royce ‘to maintain the correct impression’ in the circles in which he did business, the judge commented ‘well, what a testament that is to the superficial if not false nature of the warped values of society…’ The Court of Appeal discouraged such comments but concluded that the manner and openness of their expression encouraged a conclusion that the judge was well aware of his responsibility to decide the case on legal principles and in accordance with the evidence. The Court also dismissed the remainder of the appeal concluding that the burden was on the claimant to show a reasonable need for a replacement Rolls during the period of repair. The required need was the need of the partnership and that need was not self-proving. If need is not proved then questions arising out of the reasonableness of measures in mitigation do not arise. That principle had not been weakened by cases following Giles v Thompson.  An important point to note is that the need was put in issue in the defence. It was for the claimant to establish it and if successful, the defendant would have had to show that it had not been met in a reasonable manner. The Court commented that very large hire claims should be scrutinised very carefully. The judge was entitled to require specific evidence of need such as evidence of the actual use of the vehicle for business purposes before the accident and the use to which the hired vehicle was put during the period of hire. This is a helpful case for defendants where a large hire claim is made on the basis that the vehicle is needed for business use. However the Court contrasted business use with a claim by a private motorist. The evidential threshold for the private motorist to establish reasonable need is much lower. The court cited Lord Foscote in Lagden:  he said such a motorist may not be able to predict what particular use will be made during the period of hire; it may just be about convenience and not avoiding some financial loss he or she might otherwise have incurred. The battles continue…. (Image Courtesy of www.freefoto.com)

“Safe sex” – Part 2

Regular readers will recall the story so far in relation to this unfortunate “on the job” injury which raises important questions about activities which can properly be said to arise out of or occur in the course of employment.    The appellant, a female public servant, sued the Australian federal government after being injured while having sex on a work trip in a motel bedroom. A glass light fitting came away from the wall above the bed as she was having sex striking her in the face and causing injuries to her nose, mouth and a tooth as well as “a consequent psychiatric injury” described as an adjustment disorder.   The appellant’s partner’s evidence was that they were “going hard” and that he did not know “if we bumped the light or it just fell off”.  He added, not unreasonably, that he was “not paying attention because we were rolling around”.   The appellant claimed compensation because her injuries were caused “during the course of her employment” as she had been instructed to travel to and spend the night in the motel in a small town in New South Wales ahead of a departmental meeting early the next day.   The respondent, Comcare, the Australian government's workplace safety body, rejected the claim on the grounds that sexual activity “was not an ordinary incident of an overnight stay like showering, sleeping or eating”. That decision was upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.   However, on appeal to the Federal Court of Australia (FCA), the appellant’s counsel submitted that the accident was in truth “no different than slipping over in the shower”. In addition, “lawful sexual activity” should now be considered reasonable behaviour in a hotel room by an employee as “it's not the 1920s”.   Counsel for ComCare responded that people need to eat, sleep and attend to their personal hygiene but “you don't need to have sex”.   The judge, Nicholas J., allowed the appellant’s appeal - see PVYW v Comcare (No 2) [2012] FCA 395. The judge held that “While it is true that in determining whether an injury occurred in the course of employment, regard must always be had to the general nature, terms and circumstances of the applicant’s employment, there was nothing of that description in the present case which could justify a finding that the interval or interlude was interrupted by the applicant’s lawful sexual activity” – see [54] of the judgment.   Comcare appealed to the full court of the FCA which on 13 December 2012 dismissed its appeal – see Comcare v PVYW [2012] FCAFC 181.   In a carefully reasoned judgment the full court, presided over by Keane CJ., rejected Comcare’s essential submission that “an injured employee who claims to have been injured during an interval or interlude between periods of actual work must show both that the injury occurred at a place he or she was induced or encouraged by the employer to be and that the activity from which the injury arose was induced or encouraged by the employer, or was implicitly accepted”.   The court held that that the potential conditions for liability were not conjunctive in the sense that an activity test should be super-imposed on a place test. There was no combined or two-stage test. There was a single test which may be satisfied in either one of two ways. Further, the concept of, here, “a frolic of her own” was one which applies to wrongful acts. The court also made clear that “the views of the respondent’s employer about the respondent’s (lawful) activities were irrelevant, whether or not those views (if sought) may have reflected disapproval or indifference” – see [50] – [55] of the judgment.   This must be right. Why should being injured whilst having sex be any different to the claimant being injured whilst working out on one of the exercise bicycles or cross trainers in the motel’s gym provided that the injury occurred within an overall period or episode of work and negligence can be shown. Further, why should the employer approve when and how an employee has sex any more than where she chooses to have her breakfast?   Comcare is considering an appeal to the High Court, Australia's highest legal tribunal. In the meantime, common sense has prevailed, the judgment provides useful guidance on the scope of workplace injuries and I, for one, will in future double check the structural integrity of motel light fittings.  

Are counsel’s doodles privileged?

    Do you doodle in meetings? Should you doodle in meetings?   There is both good news and bad.       The good news is that doodling may be good for you! A study by the University of Plymouth and published in Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that doodling actually helps improve concentration and memory. Two groups of people were asked to listen to a boring telephone conversation. One group was doodling, the other was not. The doodlers remembered 29 per cent more information than those who had simply sat and listened.   The bad news at least so far as counsel is concerned is that any doodles may now have a wider audience than the doodler may have intended. In Hellard and another v Irwin Mitchell [2012] All ER (D) 71; [2012] EWHC 2656 (Ch) His Honour Judge Purle Q.C. sitting as a judge of the Chancery Division heard an application in a claim for alleged professional negligence against the defendant firm of solicitors.       The essential issue was limitation and, in particular, whether it was reasonable for the solicitors to rely on the advice of counsel and what counsel's advice had been. The solicitors applied for a declaration that the claimant trustee in bankruptcy had impliedly waived the obligations of the bankrupt’s former counsel to uphold legal professional privilege in respect of the subject matter of the claim.       It was common ground that the bringing of the claim had operated as a waiver of privilege with regard to the solicitors’ file including the solicitors’ notes of conferences with counsel and the deliberations of the solicitor including deliberations with counsel. The issue was whether privilege still attached to counsel’s own papers such as working papers and notes of conferences because counsel had not been joined in the claim.       The court held that privilege attached to confidential communications between the solicitors, counsel and their mutual client. Once privilege regarding those communications had been waived, any evidence as to those communications could be adduced - see [9], [12], [15] of the judgment.       Thus having waived privilege in relation to counsel's advice, the claimant could not pick and choose which bits of counsel's advice or deliberations could be withheld from the court. The waiver would therefore extend to all of counsel’s own working papers, deliberations and notes including, presumably, any doodles!       Despite the results of the Plymouth study, it seems that doodling does not always help with concentration and memory. One individual is quoted as saying:   “I always doodle, and I don't pay attention … It kind of hurts my memory”.   

Vicarious Liability for Sex Abusers: Catholic Child Welfare Society v Various Claimants (1) The Institute of Christian Brothers (2)

Just this morning, the Supreme Court has given judgment in the historic child abuse case of Catholic Child Welfare Society v Various Claimants (1) The Institute of Christian Brothers (2) [2012] UKSC 56. A fuller report will appear on the PiBlawg, no doubt in due course.     Lord Phillips, giving the sole judgement of the Court held that there are two stages in establishing vicarious liability: (a)    first whether the relationship between the abuser and the defendant was capable of giving rise to vicarious liability; and (b)   secondly examination of the connection that linked the relationship between them and the abuser’s wrongful conduct. Applying this test, the Institute, an unincorporated association, was vicariously liable for the acts of abuse committed by its members who worked in a school under a contract of employment with a third party.   This case may be of inadvertent pertinence in the coming years in light of what the Press suggest it likely to be a veritable avalanche of civil claims brought by victims of child abuse, brought in the wake of the allegations made against Jimmy Savile and others working at the BBC and other institutions. The nature of the employment is likely to be of paramount importance in such cases, especially in those where the alleged abuser is deceased and/or impecunious.   Lord Faulks QC and Alistair Hammerton of 1 Chancery Lane appeared for the Second Respondents.  

Delayed flight claims: Clear for takeoff (2/2)

The ECJ dealt a hammer blow to European airlines this morning in the long-awaited joined cases of TUI and Nelson (Cases C-581/10 and C-629/10). The full text will be available shortly but judging by the press summary, the Court has adopted almost verbatim the Opinion of Advocate General Bot.  This case confirms the decision in Sturgeon (Case C-402/07) that where an air carrier operates or intends to operate a flight either departing from or landing in a EU member state, and that flight is subject to a ‘long delay’ (meaning a delay of three hours or more), each passenger will be entitled to compensation on the following basis: EUR 250 for all flights of 1,500km or less; EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1,500km and for all other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km; and EUR 600 for all flights not falling under (1) or (2) The Court confirmed that the temporal scope of its ruling is not limited to those passengers who issued proceedings before today’s judgment, and extends to any potential claim not already statute barred. This case clears the way for many thousands of claims that are currently stayed by court order or consent, to continue on to trial. It is anticipated that many fresh claims will also come forward. Airlines now face a potential liability running into the tens of thousands of pounds for each flight delayed by three hours or more. The ECJ did not however, regard this as a disproportional means of achieving the legitimate aims of the legislation, as long delays are rare (estimated at 1 in every200 scheduled flights) and in any event, airlines can rely on the defence that the delay or cancellation was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’.   Attention now turns to the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ defence; the new battleground in denied boarding litigation. Another consideration is how this new liability is to be paid for. Holidaymakers may find themselves paying more for their week in the sun as a result of the ECJ’s latest piece of teleological reasoning.

JURISDICTION, CONSUMER PROTECTION, CRUISING BY FREIGHTER AND A MOONLIGHT FLIT (FROM AN AUSTRIAN HOTEL)

     Peter Pammer sounds like the name of a character from a (badly written) sitcom, but is in fact the name of an Austrian with an eye for a bargain. While searching online for a cheap holiday, Mr Pammer alighted on the website of a German Company: Internationale Frachtschiffreisen Pfeiffer GmbH. This entity acted as an intermediary for the sale of an unlikely sounding voyage (a holiday of sorts) from Trieste to the Far East. The vessel which was to operate the voyage was an industrial freight ship. Sailing on such a ship might not obviously have conjured thoughts of reclining on a sun deck sipping gin and tonic, but the website did promise Mr Pammer (and anyone else who read it) an onboard fitness room, an outdoor swimming pool and a saloon, together with onboard video and television access. There was also a promise of double cabin accommodation with shower and toilet and a separate living room. The website further indicated that the freighter would make ports of call from which excursions ashore could be taken. Mr Pammer was sufficiently attracted by the website offer to enter into a contract for the voyage, but this was not with the intermediary company, but, instead, with another German corporate entity: Reederei Karl Schluter.             Mr Pammer apparently refused to embark on the freighter; perhaps predictably, it was his view that the conditions on board did not meet the description provided on the website. He had paid EUR 8,500 for the voyage and sought a refund. The German company – Reederei Karl Schluter – reimbursed only EUR 3,500 and Mr Pammer brought proceedings in the Austrian Court (viz. the Court of his nationality and domicile) for the balance: EUR 5,000. Reederei Karl Schluter contested jurisdiction on the ground that it did not pursue any professional or commercial activity in Austria and, accordingly, the Austrian Court lacked jurisdiction. At first instance, the Austrian Court declared that it had jurisdiction on the ground that the voyage contract was a consumer contract (for regulated “package” travel) and the intermediary company had, by internet advertisement, engaged in advertising activity in Austria. On appeal, Reederei Karl Schluter was successful on the ground that the index contract was a contract of carriage, rather than a consumer contract (the fact that the voyage afforded – or ought to have afforded – a degree of comfort to the passenger did not convert a contract of carriage into a consumer contract). Undaunted, Mr Pammer appealed to the Austrian Supreme Court which stayed proceedings and referred the following questions to the European Court of Justice Pammer v Reederei Karl Schluter GmbH & Co KG [2010] (European Court of Justice: C-585/08) “1. Does a voyage by freighter constitute package travel for the purposes of article 15(3) of Regulation No 44/2001? 2. If the answer to Question 1 is in the affirmative: is the fact that an intermediary’s website can be consulted on the internet sufficient to justify a finding that activities are being ‘directed’ to the Member State of the consumer’s domicile within the meaning of Article 15(1)(c) of Regulation No 44/2001?” Mr Pammer’s case highlights, perhaps, a phenomenon that is increasingly experienced by English consumers who are injured while enjoying – if that’s the right word – holidays overseas. They book a holiday by means of a website. The holiday is a not a regulated package (within the meaning of the Package Travel etc. Regulations 1992). The consumer is injured while using the services provided by his or her holiday accommodation and would like to bring proceedings in this respect in the English courts. The Hotel is owned/operated by a foreign company which provides an obvious impediment to English jurisdiction. If the website operator is also foreign owned/operated then that might seem to rule out any English proceedings unless it can be said that the contract is a consumer contract and that the website activity is directed to the Member State where the consumer is domiciled (England) within the meaning of article 15(1)(c) of the Judgments Regulation. The outcome of the reference to the ECJ in Pammer (joined with another case Hotel Alpenhof GesembH v Oliver Heller [2010] (C-144/09) which involved a consumer leaving a Hotel without payment), together with a more recent ECJ decision (Muhlleitner v Yusufi & anor. [2012] (European Court of Justice: C-190/11), now suggests that where the internet trader has manifested an intention to direct activity to a Member State other than that of its own domicile/registration then article 15(1)(c) will be satisfied and the English consumer injured overseas can nevertheless pursue a claim against the foreign internet trader in England. Such intention may be evidenced by the nature of the relevant trading activity (as found, for example, in tourism services), mention on the website of an international clientele or an itinerary comprising visits to Member States other than that in which the trader is resident or even simply the use of telephone numbers with an international code. The jurisdictional hurdle for the English consumer to jump is not a very high one. Internet holiday sales – whether or not the resultant contracts are “packages” – are now very common. Often, overseas bed-booking intermediaries will assert that a consumer’s contract is with the local (overseas) Hotelier or service supplier. In such cases, the Odenbreit decision and section 3 of the Judgments Regulation provides a potential jurisdictional route to a claim against the local supplier’s (foreign) insurer in the English Courts, but Pammer/Hotel Alpenhof/Muhlleitner now provide a potential basis for suing the tortfeasor service supplier itself in England – another useful weapon in the English consumer’s jurisdictional arsenal.

Quantifying Future Loss of Earnings: Ward v Allies & Morrison Architects [2012] EWCA Civ 1287

At the quantum only trial of a personal injuries matter, HHJ Cleary held that he did not have sufficient evidence pertaining to the claimant’s level of likely future earnings and the likely duration therof. Nor was he satisfied that the claimant was disabled. Accordinly, the trial judge made a lump sum award of £30,000 to allow the claimant to retrain following Blamire v South Cumbria HA [1993] P.I.Q.R. Q1, in addition to some £24,000 in general damages and £19,750 for past loss of earnings. The Claimant appealed on the contentions (amongst others) that the Judge should have used the Ogden tables to calculate lost future earnings (expected to quantify a loss of £176,633.46 on the basis that the Claimant expected to become a theatrical model maker) rather than have made a broad brush Blamire award.   The Court of Appeal (Aikens LJ, Kitchen LJ & Sir Richard Buxton) held that whilst the Ogden tables should be the usual method of quantifying such loss, this depended on the court’s ability to make findings of fact as to the likely earning capacity of a claimant, which the Judge in the instant case was unable to do. It was re-emphasised that it is for a claimant to prove their loss in this regard. In the instant case it was held that the judge was entitled to hold that there were too many imponderables to have allowed a firm finding as to the Claimant’s likely career progression and thus her future loss of earnings award. Thus the Judge was entitled to make a Blamire award.  

Should the solicitor pay up?

Can a solicitor be liable for costs if he or she takes on a case for an impecunious claimant under a CFA where there is no ATE insurance policy in place and where he or she funds the disbursements necessary to allow the case to proceed?   Neil Hamilton famously sued Mohammed Al-Fayed for defamation over ‘cash for questions’, lost and was ordered to pay £1.3m in costs. Mr Al-Fayed then pursued Mr Hamilton’s financial backers (not parties to the litigation) for costs, lost and was ordered to pay their costs. Unsurprisingly there has not been as much media attention and public interest in the case of Tinseltime v Eryl Roberts [2012] EWHC 2628 which was a case in the technology and construction court. There was no personal injury involved: the claimant claimed that the defendant had created dust whilst demolishing a building and the dust had damaged machinery and caused a loss of profit. The claim was unsuccessful and the claimant was ordered to pay the defendant’s costs. The defendants applied for an order under section 51(3) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 and/or CPR 48.2 that the claimant’s solicitor pay the costs as a non-party funder. The claimant’s solicitor had entered into a CFA. He had been unduly optimistic about how straightforward the issue of liability would be. It was clear that he was aware that if the claimant lost it would not be able to pay costs. He estimated the overall costs likely to be incurred to be £20,000 and disbursements, £10,000. In the event disbursements amounted to £22,270 and so burnt a sizeable hole in his pocket. He had expected to recover the disbursements from the defendant (if successful). The judge concluded that the following were the correct legal principles to apply. The first question was whether it just in all the circumstances to make an order. Secondly, when considering a solicitor, had he acted beyond or outside his role as a solicitor conducting litigation? Thirdly, the fact that a solicitor is acting under a CFA and stands to benefit financial from the outcome does not mean he has acted beyond or outside his role as a solicitor. Fourthly, the starting point is that the position of a solicitor funding disbursements is no different from one who is not as both positions are legitimate and meet a legitimate public policy aim. The judge was of the view that, in order to be successful in applying for a non-party costs order there would have to be present either some financial benefit to the solicitor over and above the benefit which he could expect to receive from the CFA or some exercise of control of the litigation over and above that which would be expected from a solicitor acting on behalf of a client (or a combination of both). By way of example the judge suggested that a solicitor’s desire to achieve a successful outcome might cause him to take over the running of the litigation for his own ends. Another example was of a case where the damages claimed were modest in comparison to costs incurred so that the client had lost interest in the proceedings but the solicitor was wedded to them in order to recover his costs. The circumstances of a case might justify the conclusion that a solicitor was making all the decisions for his own benefit. The defendants argued that the claimant’s solicitor had acted improperly, unreasonably or negligently in his conduct of the case. The judge said this was the province of wasted costs (which were not awarded - although pursued in the alternative). He said courts should be astute to keep wasted costs and non-party costs separate. The claimant’s solicitor may have misjudged the case but he came out of the judgment rather well. The judge commented that he was not motivated solely by financial self-interest but with the laudable aim of providing access to justice to the claimant. He thought the claim was genuine and had written a file note stating “the company has been crippled by the defendant tortfeasors and needs assistance.” The judgment draws to a close effectively with a warning against letting financial self-interest get the better of you and an encouragement from a judge to practitioners to be motivated not solely by financial self-interest but by a concern for justice and access to justice. Such a consideration (and file-note for the record!) might well prove worthwhile… Photograph courtesy of freefoto.com