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UK Government considers capping fees on clinical negligence claims

Medical surgeon

In July, we reported on the UK Government's plans to curb 'excessive fees' that some lawyers allegedly claim in clinical negligence cases. The plans revealed that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is considering setting a limit on legal costs in clinical negligence cases valued under £100,000. However, new government proposals have revealed that the MoJ wants to take this cost-cutting measure further.

The Law Society Gazette is reporting that the government wants to implement fixed fees on all clinical negligence claims valued at £250,000 or less, considerably higher than the figure indicated in reports last month. The data comes from a Department of Health (DoH) document that was attached to the Civil Procedure Rules Committee meeting papers, indicating that government ministers are currently considering whether to consult on plans to raise the limit.

Why is the Department of Health considering this rise?

The DoH believes that capping legal costs in clinical negligence cases valued at under £100,000 will save around £80 million. However, the DoH now believes that it can find another £25 million worth of savings by setting caps on legal costs for claims valued up to £250,000. The DoH has suggested that claimant lawyers are incurring significant costs in the pre-litigation and pre-notification period, as they are not subject to any cost budgeting regulations or requirements. The DoH also maintains the view that claimant solicitors are trying to claim costs that are much higher than that stipulated in current hourly rate guidelines by the NHS Litigation Authority. This is apparently resulting in a disproportionate amount of cost claims when compared to the actual amount of damages paid – meaning for low value claims, more money is being paid to lawyers rather than victims of negligent care.

In an attempt prove these disproportionate costs, the DoH has said that in cases that were closed in 2013/2014, claimant lawyers' legal costs amounted to 273% of damages awarded in claims valued between £1,000 and £10,000. For claims between £10,000 and £25,000 the legal costs amounted to 153%; 107% for claims valued between £25,000 and £50,000; 74% for claims valued between £50,000 and £100,000, and 54% for any claims valued between £100,000 and £250,000.

When are the caps expected to be implemented?

The government hasn't revealed exactly when the caps are coming into force, but it has emerged that it could be around October 2016, subject to a consultation that is expected to take place between November and December this year.

The plans aren't expected to go through unchallenged though; the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has already set up a group to discuss the proposals, while the Law Society has said that it will be actively speaking with clinical negligence professionals to get their views on the proposals. The Law Society president, Jonathan Smithers, has stated that fixing recoverable costs in medical negligence cases may hurt patients who have been seriously or critically injured because they will be unable to claim the right level of compensation needed to make a full recovery. Solicitors have echoed this view, warning that fee restrictions could deny victims' access to justice.

The team at Fonseca Law will be monitoring this situation very closely over the next few months, and will bring you all the latest news as and when it becomes available. We believe victims of clinical negligence should receive all the support and financial help they're entitled to, to ensure a quick and full recovery. If you've suffered as a result of clinical negligence, please contact our team today on 0800 156 0770, email enquiries@fonsecalaw.co.uk or fill in our online claim form.