Hospital Dr News

‘No win no fee’ lawyers grow negligence claims

Personal injury lawyers are being blamed for soaring clinical negligence claims which are spiralling at the rate of 10% a year.

A record £15 billion has been set aside for NHS claims, reveals the NHS Litigation Authority’s (NHSLA) annual report.

Some 6,652 clinical negligence claims were reported in 2009/10, a 10% increase over the previous year. This follows an 11% increase in claims in 2008/09.

The rise is blamed on the so-called ‘no win no fee’ market which allows claimants to litigate without any financial risk and proves very lucrative for solicitors who work on this basis.

A review of civil litigation costs by Lord Justice (Rupert) Jackson reported in January that the costs of conducting litigation have become significantly disproportionate to the benefits in many cases.

NHSLA chief executive Stephen Walker said that a city of London solicitor succeeding in a clinical negligence claim could bill at £450 per hour and seek up uplift of 100% as a success fee. This is significantly higher than the legal rates for the best defence lawyers that the NHSLA can secure at £205 an hour with no success fees.

“We can only hope that the courts will adopt the spirit of Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations in considering costs issues,” he said.

The Jackson review has produced a blueprint for reform designed to bring costs under control and make them fairer. It recommends that success fees and after the event insurance premiums should be irrecoverable in ‘no win no fee’ cases (CFA – conditional fee agreements), as these are the greatest contributors to disproportionate costs.

The government is to consult on Lord Justice Jackson’s reforms in the autumn. Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said that Jackson’s recommendations will be taken forward by the government “as a matter of priority” and that CFA reform should lead to significant costs savings, while still enabling those who need access to justice to obtain it’. He added that CFAs had played a role in giving access to justice but high costs under the existing arrangements had now become a serious concern, particularly in clinical negligence cases against the NHSLA.

But the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers plans to fight the proposed reforms. It argues that they would be detrimental to claimants. “Shifting costs onto claimants is a step backwards, and could disenfranchise many injured people from the justice system, because they simply won’t be able to afford to bring legitimate cases,” said a spokesman.

MPS chief executive, Tony Mason, said increased life expectancy and the cost of care packages were also factors in driving up costs.

“Every year we have seen a significant increase in legal costs. It is not unusual for claimant legal costs to exceed compensation payouts in clinical negligence cases. In some lower value cases we see costs five to ten times the value of the compensation awarded. For cases in the last five years in England and Wales where we have paid compensation of up to £100,000, claimant legal fees were more than 90% of the damages paid out. Patients deserve fair compensation, but we must do something to stem the tide of excessive legal costs.”

Jill Harding, head of claims at the MDU, said: “Doctors may be concerned to hear about the 10% increase in the number of NHS negligence claims. It is important to point out however that an increase in claim notifications is not an indication of a decline in medical standards.”

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3 Responses to “‘No win no fee’ lawyers grow negligence claims”

  1. Edward Kweka says:

    Please please please, let us lobby the government to adopt a systen currently in practice in Italy and France whereby no litigations can be made against government run institutions. £ 15 billion taken out of the NHS budget will inevitably lead to more errors hence more litigations. This is madness, government shooting itself! This does not mean errors and negligences will not be investigated and things be put right. Payouts dot not increase the quality of care infact they adversely affect it as more and more doctors are now practicing defensive medicine! I am afraid greed and corruption has inflitrated the current system in which patients can sue the NHS. Please please let us act on this one to bring change for the better!

  2. drsupport says:

    How touching of the lawyers to be concerned about access to justice! No-win, no-fee is the only area where this applies. The vast majority can’t afford legal services, only the poor and the super-rich. We weren’t able to get justice for abuse of our child in the educational system: it would have costed £100K. These lawyers tears are crocodile ones.
    I second the comment above. I’ve only had association with one patient complaint that ended up with them getting well-compensated by the NHS. Of interest, the patient was fine about everything, including my explanation of it, didn’t want anything done, etc, at the time. After leaving hospital however, they learned how much money they could make and got themselves a solicitor, without coming back to me, as I offered, if they changed their mind about needing help. I have been practising defensive medicine since! We must stop NHS patients seeing the NHSLA as a milch cow.

  3. david says:

    Is it correct that no litigation can be taken against Doctors in France because they form part of Government Institution?

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