Caution when Admitting Liability

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27 June, 2019

Royal Automobile Club Ltd v Catherine Wright (2019)EWHC 913 (QB)

The High Court has concluded that an application by a Defendant in a personal injury claim to withdraw an earlier admission of liability had rightly been rejected.

The Claimant brought a claim against her employer after she suffered injury when she fell on a flight of stairs at her place of work. The letter of claim set out the Claimant's injuries in detail.

Upon receipt of the claim, the Defendant's claims handler formed the view that the claim did not exceed £25,000 and argued the claim should be submitted via the Claims Portal. There was an exchange of emails and the Claimant's solicitors asserted that the claim was going to be valued in excess of £25,000.

On 8 September 2016, the Defendant admitted liability and requested medical evidence. On 4 August 2017, a detailed schedule of loss was provided and the claim was valued in excess of £1 million. In response, the Defendant asked the Claimant to consent to the withdrawal of admission of liability. The Claimant issued proceedings and the admission was relied on. In the Defence, the Defendant sought to withdraw the admission of liability and put the Claimant on notice that contributory negligence formed part of its case.

The Application was considered by Master Davison who found that that there was no proper basis upon which to permit the defendant to withdraw its pre-action admission. The matter was appealed to the High Court and Mr Justice William Davis agreed with this assessment.

Mr Justice Davis found that it was "crystal clear" from the outset that that this was a claim which was "anything but straightforward". It was a claim that involved the instruction of three medical specialists and there was "nothing to justify the claims handler concluding that it was a claim of a modest amount". The High Court dismissed the appeal.

Forbes comment

When considering an application to withdraw an earlier admission of liability the Court must consider a number of factors, including whether the Claimant would suffer prejudice if the admission were to be withdrawn. In this instance, the accident had occurred over four years earlier and following the prompt admission of liability there had been no detailed investigation into the circumstances of the accident. In addition, interim payments had also been made to the Claimant. The Judge was concerned that if the interim payments paid without question could be withdrawn months later then it would undermine and cause damage to the administration of justice.

Without a doubt, this case serves as an important reminder to Defendants that careful consideration should be given to the potential value of a claim before admitting liability.

For more information contact Sarah Wilkinson in our Insurance department via email or phone on 01254 662831. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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