Legal – Firms fear surge in litigation

Big Five firms fear ‘US-style’ multimillion pound negligence claims against them will snowball following the introduction of the radical Woolf reforms to civil litigation procedures, writes Lucinda Kemeny.

The reforms were introduced in April to simplify access to justice and reduce court time. But firms are worried new rules forcing them to exchange documents at the start of a case could make them targets for litigants.

Ernst & Young senior litigation associate Frank Ilett said this would let plaintiffs view papers that could incriminate a firm fighting a negligence case. Disclosure could sway a plaintiff making a small claim to push for higher sums when he may have dropped the case.

‘The new rules could encourage more silly claims as the claimant can get access to the other party’s records,’ he said.

Another Big Five forensic partner said the changes could inspire people to mount US-style law suits running into billions . ‘We are going to get a lot more spurious claims and the answer will have to be to fight them,’ he said. Firms are routinely dogged by negligence claims over audits of businesses that go into liquidation.

Firms hope judges’ powers to direct cases will help prevent claims. ‘Increased hands-on case management by judges and sensible use of awarding costs will be a check on frivolous lawsuits,’ saidPricewaterhouseCoopers forensic marketing partner Jerry Lagerberg.

Leader, page 10.

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