Dairy farmers to sue Burges Salmon for £5m

Burges Salmon is being sued for around £5m by 34 dairy farmers over alleged negligent advice it gave relating to EU restrictions on European milk production

The farmers claim that Burges Salmon was negligent in advising them not to take a claim against the National Farmers’ Union (NFU). It is alleged the farmers were denied full compensation as their claim was brought out of time due to the firm’s advice.
It is also alleged that, because Burges Salmon was funded by the NFU at the time, it was in a position of conflict between the NFU and the farmers.
“The matter is with our insurer’s solicitors and is being defended strongly,” a Burges Salmon spokesperson said.
Earlier this month, the Chancery Division ruled in favour of the farmers’ claim against the law firm on two preliminary points.
Dairy farmers had sought compensation from the NFU after it had advised them not to seek action against the EU [until a claim against the EU was settled] after it denied them full compensation for loss of production due to EU limits on milk production.
The NFU’s advice meant that the UK farmers were entitled to three years less compensation from the EU than they sought because they made their claim too late.
Burges Salmon, having earlier written to some farmers alleging that the NFU’s advice was bad, later said that any claims against the NFU would result in only small wins. It also advised that they should await the outcome of a test case by the NFU (which Burges Salmon was funded to carry out) against the EU.
After the conclusion of the test case, Wragge & Co, on referral from Burges Salmon, took 129 claims against the NFU on behalf of the farmers. A June 1999 judgment on 10 lead farmers’ cases ruled that they would not be able to receive full compensation due to the late commencement of their claims. The delay allegedly arose because of Burges Salmon’s advice.
In his judgment on the 34 farmers’ professional negligence claims against Burges Salmon, delivered on 8 May 2002, Mr Justice Neuberger dismissed the law firm’s claim that the June 1999 decision was wrong. Judge Neuberger ruled that the 1999 judgment could have been avoided had Burges Salmon given the advice that it is alleged it ought to have given.