The Dental Defence Union (MDU), is hopeful that government proposals to control civil litigation costs will spell an end to the inflation-busting legal costs it sees in dental negligence cases.
The DDU welcomed a Ministry of Justice consultation which, like the report by Lord Justice Jackson earlier this year, proposes measures aimed at reducing the disproportionate costs of civil litigation for the defendant.
The DDU says the costs of settling clinical negligence claims have spiralled in nearly 30 years with average claimants’ legal costs increasing by nearly three times the rate of inflation since 1982.
Head of the DDU, Rupert Hoppenbrouwers, said: ‘We are pleased that the government is proposing to take forward many of the proposals recommended by Lord Justice Jackson. If implemented, we believe the changes will make the civil litigation procedure fairer, making costs paid to claimants’ solicitors more proportionate to the damages claimants receive, without impairing claimants’ access to justice.
‘We have long argued that the current situation, where claimants’ legal costs can be as much as thirteen times the compensation awarded to the damaged patient (as in one of the cases below), impugns the system and is very unfair to dental professionals who are currently funding these legal costs. As the consultation recognises, such disproportionate costs also have an adverse impact on tax payers, for example in cases indemnified by NHS bodies, which are funded by the taxpayer.
‘We are particularly pleased that the government proposes that unsuccessful defendants no longer have to pay for ‘After the Event Insurance’ and success fees which have contributed to the disproportionate costs faced by defendants, including DDU dental professionals. In the DDU’s experience, success fees can double claimants’ costs.
‘We are hopeful that this consultation, which our parent organisation, the MDU will be responding to on behalf of our medical and dental members, will lead to a fairer claims procedure.’
DDU figures reveal that in 2010, the average claimants’ costs paid on behalf of dental members was £8,700, 17 times higher than the figure in 1982 of £500.
The average annual increase in claimants’ legal costs over the last 30 years was 11%, compared with an average increase in Retail Price Index (RPI) of just four per cent.
Examples of cases where claimants’ costs far exceed damages include:
• A claim for poor root canal treatment which resulted in the need for extraction under general anaesthetic was settled for £6,750 damages paid to the claimant patient. While the claim was settled in just five weeks, the claimant’s solicitors costs were initially £20,000 which included a success fee and after the event insurance premium. After negotiation, costs were agreed at £10,000.
• A claim for the failure of a temporary crown was settled four months later for £750. The claimant’s solicitors claimed costs of £17,000 although costs of £10,000 were eventually agreed, including success fee and after the event insurance.