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‘Unprecedented’ clinical negligence claims after migration of PI firms

9th Aug 2014

New claims of clinical negligence have reached an ‘unprecedented’ level, according to the NHS Litigation Authority, after personal injury solicitors have started to branch out into clinical negligence cases.

According to the annual report recently published by the authority, clinical negligence claims have risen by nearly 18% in a year – 10 129 were reported in 2012/3, compared to 11 945 for 2013/4.

The Litigation Authority attributes this rise mainly to claimant solicitor firms, who have branched out into clinical negligence since profits in other sectors have decreased. This is in part due to fixed costs being reduced in motor personal injury claims, while clinical negligence is an area in which hourly rates still apply.

However, according to the authority, this increase runs alongside an increase in poorly investigated claims, and lawyers who do not specialise in clinical negligence bringing in cases where it was clear no criminal negligence had taken place.

An authority report also stated that claimant lawyers have ‘frontloaded’ costs prior to notification to the authority, increasing profits. Pre-notification, lawyers are not subject to cost budgeting requirements by the courts, as these only apply after the pre-litigation period.

This means that significant costs are being incurred before the claim even reaches the Litigation Authority, and as a result, costs claimed by solicitors can be disproportionate to the damages paid out to claimants. Consequently, some lawyers are receiving more money than their clients.

However, some of the claimant lawyers were challenged, according to Catherine Dixon, chief executive of the Litigation Authority, which saved £75m for the NHS.

Despite this, the level at which claims are rising has given cause for concern to many in the industry, who fear that this new way of making money for personal injury solicitors will only lead to increases in such cases in the future.