A personal injury case that escalated to the Court of Appeal over a matter of fees has resulted in a landmark ruling. The Court of Appeal’s decision has upheld a previous decision that the highest fixed fee level could be applied to cases that are listed for disposal – a decision which, in the opinion of Lord Justice Briggs, is set to have “substantial” consequences.
The case in question, Bird v Acorn, originated when the claimant, Mr Bird, received an injury in 2013 while visiting the premises of the defendant when a dropped tool landed on his hand. He instructed a firm of solicitors to begin a personal injury claim, which was initially lodged through Employer’s Liability/Public Liability portal – a platform used for launching various workplace injury claims and claims for accidents in public spaces.
No response to this initial claim was received, so it was withdrawn from the portal. The following month, the defendant’s insurer admitted liability, so the claimant’s solicitors responded to the insurer with medical evidence of the injury in the hope of reaching an appropriate settlement. However, no agreement was reached and legal proceedings began, with the defendant failing to acknowledge and a default judgement ultimately issued to the defendant.
The case them progressed to Birkenhead County Court where it was finalised after a disposal hearing of ten minutes. However, there was one slight complication regarding fixed costs. Costs had not been agreed beforehand, and therefore the judge was left with the task of choosing which of the predefined fixed cost options should be applied. The judge decided that “column 3,” the highest level of fixed costs at 27.5% of awarded damages plus £3,790, should be applied.
However, the case was then taken to the Court of Appeal, with specific regard to this decision to apply the highest level of fixed costs to the case. The judge described the matter as a “short but important” one. The question at the heart of the matter, he said, was whether a disposal hearing constituted a trial or not. If it did qualify as a trial, then this would mean that higher levels of fixed costs would be recoverable than if the matter had been settled before this point.
The Court of Appeal upheld the original decision to apply the highest band of fixed costs to the case, therefore providing “authoritative guidance… on a question which has generated significant controversy.”
Regarding the scope of the judgement, the judge said: “The difference is, in absolute terms, a modest one but the cumulative effect of its application to numerous cases is substantial.”