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Alexander Macpherson represents insurers in tranche of claims considering underpayment of issue fees in NIHL claims

Alexander Macpherson has appeared at a hearing before Designated Civil Judge HHJ Beech (sitting at Preston County Court) on behalf of the insurers of some 30 separate Defendants in various NIHL claims.  The hearing had been listed at the instigation of various District Judges in the Northwest, who had noted the underpayment of issue fees by Claimants represented by Heptonstalls Solicitors Limited.  The consistent practice of Heptonstalls had been to include a statement of value on the Claim Form asserting that the claims were worth less than £5,000, but then to serve Particulars of Claim shortly thereafter advancing claims of up to £25,000 (frequently including a claim for private hearing aids which was itself valued at more than £5,000).

38 claims were transferred to Preston to be heard by HHJ Beech, with the court ordering that Heptonstalls show cause why the claims should not be struck out as an abuse of process.

Prior to the hearing Heptonstalls had maintained the position that their conduct was permitted by the wording of CPR r.16.3 which refers to the amount the Claimant “expects to recover”.  Heptonstalls’ evidence was that the vast majority of NIHL claims settle for less than £5,000, and accordingly that this was a reasonable expectation of the level of recovery and the correct fee had been paid.

At the hearing Heptonstalls conceded that its approach had been incorrect.  HHJ Beech agreed with the Defendants’ submissions that the correct fee was to be calculated by reference to the amount actually claimed (under the Civil Proceedings Fees Order 2008) rather than the Statement of Value, which was a tool for allocation only.  The judge concluded that it would not be proportionate to strike out the claims before her, but she directed that each Claimant would have to elect in short order whether to pay an additional fee or else have the claim restricted to £5,000.

The court received evidence from Defendant solicitors that they were aware of hundreds of other claims nationwide where the same practice had been undertaken.  Although these cases were not before the court, in light of the order made by HHJ Beech it appears that a consistent approach will have to be taken by Heptonstalls in relation to these claims as well.

Heptonstalls were directed to pay the Defendants’ costs of the hearing.

Alexander Macpherson was instructed by Katie Rose and Oliver Bingle of Keoghs, Michael Cairns of BLM, Jim Byard of Weightmans, Ruth Quinn of Clyde & Co and James Tallant of DAC Beachcroft, on behalf of Zurich, Pro Global, Catalina, Independent and AXA.

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