White & Case drafts in Kennedys on “typo” prof neg claim

White & Case has instructed Kennedys to defend a multimillion-pound professional negligence claim brought by a former client over a typo that led to a failed oil deal.

Claimant Sterling Global Capital (SGC) alleges White & Case partner Marc Polonsky made a critical mistake while writing up a business development agreement.

The typo, in which Polonsky wrote “the earlier of” rather than the correct “the later of”, led to the scope of SGC’s deal with a British petroleum company and a Russian oil business being reduced.

The error also meant the time scale of the deal was reduced from 13 years to one year after the other parties to the deal refused to redraft the terms of the agreement, according to court documents seen by The Lawyer. 

SGC originally instructed Irwin Mitchell on the claim before turning to Gordons partner James Laycock last year. Laycock has now come off the record for the claimant, which subsequently turned to W Legal litigation director Michael Ballinger in August.

A source close to the dispute said the numerous counsel changes were a result of the client failing to secure a damages based agreement (DBA) with its prior lawyers.

Kennedys partner Martin Chesher and senior associate David Robinson have instructed 4 New Square’s Ben Patten QC. The case is also being handled in-house by White & Case general counsel Julia Walker.

Ballinger has instructed Temple Garden Chambers’ Shaman Kapoor for the claimant.

Kennedys’ defence for White & Case reads that apart from a “small typographical error” the “drafts were prepared on the basis of the claimant’s instructions”.

The case has been scheduled to be heard in early 2017.

The dispute against White & Case follows SGC bringing an arbitration against the British and Russian businesses from the original agreement to reclaim its money. The companies settled for around $200,000 in 2010.

SGC now alleges the US firm “acted negligently” and “failed to ensure that any documents drafted would secure the claimant’s commercial aims and/or reflect the terms agreed by the claimant with the other parties to the agreement”.

The case is the latest in a steady stream of negligence claims against law firms. Other firms to face disputes in the last two years include: Clifford Chance, which settled the high-profile Excalibur dispute for an undisclosed sum late last year; Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson, which will fight a £29m claim against its Paris office this year; Withers, which was ordered to pay former client Wellesley Partners £1.6m in damages in November following an unsuccessful appeal; Gateley, which is set to fight a multimillion-pound claim by property developer client EPG in April 2017; Nabarro, which agreed to pay £10m to settle a £130m claim by a client in 2014; and Mishcon de Reya, which is currently being sued by ex-QPR chairman Antonio Caliendo.

White & Case declined to comment.