See no evil — the consequences of clients failing to read documents

By Edward Coulson

Two recent solicitors’ claims deal with the consequences of clients failing to read documents: the first-instance decision in Proctor v Raleys and the Court of Appeal’s decision in Newcastle International Airport v Eversheds.

In Proctor, the claimant recovered £11,141 as general damages and for handicap on the labour market for Vibration White Finger disease. He subsequently complained that the defendants, his solicitors, had failed to advise him about a claim for compensation for services required as a consequence of his injury. He was awarded £5,539.50 after a 50 per cent discount reflecting the value of his lost chance of recovering damages for services.

The defendants had in fact written to him on three occasions advising him of a possible services claim but the trial judge, His Honour Judge Gosnell, held that they should have been aware the claimant was ‘not highly educated’ and should have interviewed him face to face. Had they done so, they would have elicited his misunderstanding of the position regarding a services claim — he thought it was necessary to make payments to a third party to justify a services claim. It was not reasonable for them to rely on questionnaires and standardised letters (as they had) even though that enabled them to deal with ‘a very high number of claims at limited cost’…

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