A mistake in an email address has led to a £1.6m counterclaim being thrown out by the High Court.  The case highlights the importance of meeting Court-imposed deadlines when making, or defending, claims for damages.

Martin Holton was a defendant in a long running dispute over building costs with Cockell Building Services.  He had been given until 20 March to file details of his amended defence and a counterclaim with the Technology and Construction Court.  The revised documents were sent by email to Cockell Building Services’ solicitors and to the Court in the afternoon of 20 March.  Unfortunately, due to a typing error, the email to the Court was returned marked undeliverable.  The mistake did not come to light until early the following week, by which time the deadline had been missed.

The counterclaim was automatically struck out by the Court.  The defendant’s solicitors applied for the amended documents to be accepted, arguing that the mistake was trivial and the documents had been served with the claimant’s solicitors on time.  The Judge accepted that the mistake in the email address alone was unlikely to have caused the documents to be struck out.  But Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart said that the error was a culmination of a course of conduct which amounted to a breach of a Court order and refused to accept the amended defence and counterclaim.

This was a case where, for whatever reason, the provision of the necessary information for the re-pleading of the counterclaim was left until the 11th hour,” said the Judge. “Those who leave necessary steps until just before the deadline must take the risk of a last-minute slip up.”

The case highlight the importance of meeting Court deadlines says James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professional Risks. “Defending any claim for damages, whether it is for professional negligence, or a commercial dispute as it was in this case, is hard enough without adding to the difficulty.  It is essential that defendants get their cases in order and all the documentation ready to file well in advance of any deadlines, if mistakes are to be avoided.

Details of the case have been published by the Law Society Gazette and Civil Litigation Brief.