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Firm to fight negligence claim by former client; secret film and recordings to be allowed as evidence
London firm Sinclair Roche & Temperley is being sued for up to $20m (£14.2m) in damages for breach of contract and negligence by a former client. Ince & Co will defend Sinclair Roche in a 10-week trial set down for 2 October. Sinclair Roche vehemently denies liability and its counter-claim, that shipowner Somatra owes £577,137 in unpaid fees and disbursements, will also be heard at the trial. Somatra alleges that Sinclair Roche's negligence while acting for it in its claim for around $60m (£42.5m) against its hull underwriters, meant that it suffered a shortfall of $10m (£7m) in its final payout. The case was first brought against the underwriters, whose identity has not been made public, after the Somatra-owned ship ABT Summer sank in May 1991. Somatra claims it was compelled to settle out of court because it lost confidence in Sinclair Roche and is seeking damages for the loss of the chance for a better settlement, or for taking the matter to trial. The $20m figure is based on the shortfall that it would have received had it gone to trial and not lost confidence in Sinclair Roche. Somatra won in damages 66 per cent of the full amount it claims it could have received from a court. In a second option, if the first is unsuccessful at trial, lawyers for Saudi-based Somatra can seek damages of $10m, the amount it alleges it could have received in an out-of-court settlement had it retained confidence in the law firm. It claims it could have received 85 per cent in a settlement. The two disputes first arose soon after the April 1994 settlement. That led to two days of without-prejudice, or confidential, meetings in Jeddah in September 1994, and two subsequent and crucial telephone conversations between Sinclair Roche's partner Ben Leach, who was also present at the Jeddah meeting, and representatives of Somatra. Secret film and recordings of the meetings and phone conversations, made by Somatra, will be available at the October trial, after the Court of Appeal ruled in July 2000 that they were no longer confidential and could be used by both parties at trial. Sinclair Roche had relied on them during an ex parte application for a Mareva (asset-freezing) injunction. Herbert Smith litigation partner John Ogilvie is acting for Somatra and has instructed Christopher Symons QC of 3 Verulam Buildings, Simon Rainey QC of 4 Essex Court and Mark Cannon of Four New Square. Ince & Co partner David Rutherford, acting for Sinclair Roche, has instructed Mark Cran QC of Brick Court Chambers, Rebecca Sabben-Clare of 7 King's Bench Walk, and 20 Essex Street's Stephen Males QC.