A claimant was unable to call any witnesses in a negligence case against an insurance broker after its solicitor failed to serve witness statements on time.

The Court of Appeal has decided that a judge’s ruling preventing the witnesses evidence being heard was correct.  The case is a warning to solicitors about the importance of complying with case management rules if they are not to put their clients’ cases at risk and face claims of negligence themselves.

In the case of Clearway Drainage Systems Ltd -v- Miles Smith Ltd, Clearway’s solicitors did not serve witness statements on time.  They only informed the parties on the due day of disclosure that they would not be complying with the court order as a result of a number of issues.  The witness statements were finally submitted two months late, but were password protected causing a further delay.  Clearway’s solicitors applied to the court to be allowed to rely on the witnesses’ evidence but this was turned down by the trial judge due to the late service of the documents.

At the Appeal hearing, the court decided that the trial judge was correct in refusing the claimant relief from sanctions and said that she had undertaken a “conscientious and impeccable” analysis of the facts.

The case shows that the courts are taking a stringent approach to case management procedures,” said James Page – Head of Client Servicing, Brunel Professional Risks. “The Court of Appeal does not want a return to the days where costs orders were viewed as sufficient penalty for ignoring court directions.  Solicitors should take this as a warning that they must comply with case management rules if they are not to put their clients’ cases at risk. This emphasises the need for solicitors to have office wide monitoring of key dates, and adequate support procedures in the event that case handlers are significantly busy, or unexpectedly absent in the event of holiday, personal issues or sickness.  If they do not we can expect an increase in negligence claims against solicitors.

Reports on the claim have been published by CMS Law-Now, Civil Litigation Brief, and LPC Law.