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The Legal Complaints Service (LCS) has cut a deal with one coalminers’ union that is offering refunds to thousands of sick miners embroiled in the British Coal compensation saga.
Deborah Evans, LCS chief executive, said her organisation is actively pursuing complaints where deductions have been made from compensation awards by lawyers, trade unions or other parties. Evans said: “We welcome this initiative by the Durham Miners’ Association [DMA] to offer a refund of deductions to its members and would encourage others to approach their clients and give them the same opportunity.”
The DMA has come to an arrangement that entitles 10,000 of its members to claw back contributions they made to the union’s legal fighting fund.
Miners who took up claims under the Government’s £7.5bn scheme through the DMA with Thompsons Solicitors were required to make a contractual contribution to the union once they received compensation.
The DMA, a not-for-profit organisation, explained that the contributions were to fund the association and to ensure it could take on any legal fight for its members suffering from vibration white finger (VWF) or respiratory diseases.
But the recent controversy, which has seen 30 law firms reap more than £1bn from taxpayers and seen other solicitors take money out of actual miners’ damages (The Lawyer, 9 April), led the DMA and Thompsons to rethink the need for legal contributions to the union.
David Hopper, general secretary of the DMA, said he was appalled at how claims-farming companies and their solicitors had made deductions from damages for personal profit, in addition to the costs recovered from the Department of Trade and Industry.
“However, having funded and fought the test cases that led to these schemes, we would like to distinguish ourselves from opportunists who don’t have the rights and welfare of miners in mind,” said Hopper.
The LCS has to date received 180,000 complaints and recouped more than £600,000 for sick miners and their families.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has also launched more than 50 investigations and referred 17 law firms to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
The compensation scheme, which began after British Coal was found negligent in relation to VWF and respiratory disease in 1997 and 1998 respectively, has so far paid out £3.4bn to around 760,000 former British Coal employees.
The battle for the miners, however, is not over. The DMA is now pulling together claims for ‘miner’s knee’, also known as ‘beat knee’, and is including afflictions such as osteoarthritis and bursitis.
A DMA spokesman said it is hoped that not too many members will look to reap back money from the legal fighting fund.
He added: “Our new fight over miners knee looks set to be extremely expensive, but we do have enough investment to cover our obligations