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Over 16,000 claims defeated following Clyde & Co success in Sonae Industria Group Action

Sonae Industria Group Action

The claims of nearly 17,000 claimants alleging personal injuries and other losses from smoke exposure following a fire in June 2011 at the premises of Sonae Industria (UK) Limited in Kirkby, Merseyside were dismissed by Mr Justice Jay after a 4-week trial in Liverpool in which the Court considered extensive scientific and medical evidence and 20 representative Test Claims. The damages and costs if the Claimants were successful had been estimated by their lawyers to be in the order of £100m.

Michael Kent KC leading Michael Jones of Cobden House Chambers instructed by Clyde & Co acted for the successful Defendant and their insurers AIG.

The case laid bare the distorting effect of the methods adopted to sign up clients (“whole families have been signed up, apparently willy-nilly, to the group”). The Judge said: “Human beings are naturally susceptible and suggestible, particularly if they are made to believe that they form part of a coherent group with shared experiences, and if they risk none of their own resources in bringing a claim…Many of the questionnaires examined in the context of the Test Claimants were shown to be inaccurate and exaggerated, calling into question the objectivity and integrity of the whole process.”

Documents submitted in support of two of the 20 Test Cases were found by Mr Justice Jay to bear forged signatures of  Test Claimants and the  two firms of solicitors acting for them are to be reported by the Judge to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. In another Test Case the Judge found that the claim was brought fraudulently.

Some clients had been encouraged to join the group litigation on the basis of misleading information, which the Judge said, had the “obvious tendency to encourage the bringing of claims, on the basis that the Defendant was a soft target and this was easy money”. The Judge strongly deprecated practices about which he said “not merely does it sail close to the wind in terms of its professional propriety, it is severely counter-productive as and when the case comes to trial”.

The anecdotal and vague accounts of the effects of the smoke were effectively countered by engineering, toxicological and meteorology / plume dispersal evidence which effectively undermined the basis of the claims being pursued.

The judgment can be found here.

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