PROFESSIONAL NEGLIGENCE £66,000+ award against Mishcon de Reya Solicitors

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

LOSS OF CHANCE

In the recent case of Chweidan v Mishcon de Reya [i]  the High Court summarised the test for quantifying damages and calculating loss of chance in professional negligence claims.

BACKGROUND

Mishcon de Reya were ordered to pay over £66,000 in damages and interest to their former client Russell Chweidan. Mischcon partially lost a professional negligence claim Mr Chweidan brought against them in the High Court.

Mrs Justice Simler granted Mr Chweidan a portion of his damages claim in contract and tort for professional negligence. This was because Mishcon missed a deadline to lodge a cross-appeal at the Employment Tribunal relating to former trader Mr Chweidan’s dismissal by JP Morgan.

The dispute dated back to 2008 when Mishcon agreed to pursue Mr Chweidan’s unfair dismissal case. He had been made redundant after a serious skiing accident causing permanent injury. He won in the Employment Tribunal, which found he had been unfairly dismissed by JP Morgan. They had awarded him a smaller than expected bonus which the Tribunal found was unlawful and JP Morgan had discriminated against him on the basis of his disability.

JP Morgan successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal. The judgment against them was overturned in 2011. However Mishcon had failed to lodge Chweidan’s cross-appeal in time. Mishcon admitted responsibility for their failure but Mr Chweidan sued Mischcon for damages for loss of chance to win the Appeal against JP Morgan. He argued that the firm had failed to advise or assist him in bringing his allegations against JP Morgan within the statutory grievance procedure and that he suffered damages as a result of not lodging a counter claim in time.

chess-knights-1360662-sfreeimages

JUDGMENT

Mrs Justice Simler did not accept that Mishcon had failed to adhere to the statutory grievance procedure but awarded damages in relation to the counter claim breach.

On a detailed analysis of his case against JP Morgan, the Judge put Mr Chweidan’s overall prospects at 18%. Simler J calculated that he had a 50% chance of winning the age discrimination cross-appeal, and a 33% chance on the underlying claim following the appeal. That gave a 16% chance. The Judge added a small increase to cater for the possibility that, if Mr Chweidan won his cross-appeal, JP Morgan may have been persuaded to reach a settlement.

Mr Chweidan was awarded 18% of his £357,574.86 claim against his solicitors, amounting to

£64,363.47 damages plus 18% of £10,000 likely interest accrued after the Tribunal judgment (Total £66,163). Simler J rejected Mr Chweidan’s other claims and this represented substantially less damages than he had claimed.

Simler J said:

Although I have found that the chances of success were limited, there was more than a negligible prospect of the claimant succeeding on appeal and having done so, proving his unlawful age discrimination claims. In those circumstances, the breach of duty was the effective cause of these lost opportunities.

“The claimant is accordingly entitled to recover damages for the loss of opportunity suffered as a consequence of the defendant’s breach.”

6-STEP MATHEMATICAL APPROACH

The Judge summarised her approach to quantifying damages for loss of chance:

  1. The Claimant must prove that the claim had a real and substantial, rather than merely a negligible prospect of success.
  2. If the Court decides that the Claimant’s chances were more than merely negligible then it will have to evaluate them. That requires the Court to make a realistic assessment of what would have been the Claimant’s prospects of success, had the original litigation gone to trial.
  3. The Court should therefore assess the likely level of damages which the Claimant would probably have recovered if the underlying action had proceeded to judgment and then apply an appropriate fraction to that sum to reflect the uncertainties of recovering the damages awarded.
  4. In some loss of a chance cases it may be appropriate to view the prospects on a fairly broad brush basis. In other cases however it may be appropriate to look at the prospects in greater detail.
  5. The oral and documentary evidence available (and the extent to which it is more limited than what would have been available in the action) and the possibility that the claim might have settled are aspects that must be factored into any assessment. It would be wrong in any event, to conduct a “trial within a trial” or to make any firm findings as to what would have been decided.
  6. If there are “separate hurdles”, the percentage prospects on each should be multiplied together to give an overall lower percentage prospect.

character-265633_150PIXABY

COMMENT

The Judge in Chweidan followed the approach in earlier loss of chance litigation cases, Mount v Barker Austin [ii] and Dixon v Clement Jones [iii]. Although the burden of proof is on the claimant to show that his lawyers were negligent in the advice given, a solicitor or barrister using the defence of no loss of value to the claimant must be able to show that, despite acting for him and charging for their services, the claimant’s prospects were “no better than negligible” (so that the client lost nothing by their negligence).

Simon Brown LJ in the Court of Appeal in Mount commented that clearly the burden is heavier on the Defendant solicitors if they did not advise their client of the hopelessness of the position. If the solicitors had advised in detail on the prospects, that advice would be highly relevant. As is often the case, the question of what advice was recorded in attendance notes or letters to the client was important.

In professional negligence cases, if a claimant has numerous hurdles to overcome, this judgment could substantially reduce the amount of damages awarded for loss of chance claims; each hurdle exponentially decrease the claimant’s overall prospects. However, Simler J emphasised that the assessment of damages in these types of cases

is not necessarily a purely mathematical or mechanical exercise. Although the issues may be discrete, success on one may improve the chances of success on another.’

Nevertheless, the test outlined above provides a clearer and more predictable background to how the courts calculate damages in loss of litigation chance claims. 

[i] Chweidan v Mishcon de Reya [2014] EWHC 2685 (QB),

[ii] Mount v Barker Austin [1998] EWCA Civ 277

[iii] Dixon v Clement Jones [2004] EWCA Civ 1005

scales-145464_150pixaby

Advertisements

Are you a Shadow or de facto director?

Latest Court of Appeal Guidance

architecture-20540_150pixaby RCJ

The Court of Appeal has provided guidance for deciding whether someone is a Shadow or de facto director: Smithton Ltd (formerly Hobart Capital Markets Ltd) v Naggar[i]

Under the Companies Act 2006, all duties owed by a director can apply to former directors, de facto directors and “shadow directors”. It is axiomatic that creditors or liquidators will look for someone to sue when a company collapses. Given the various extensions in directors’ duties and liabilities, and widening of the class of persons covered, questions arise e.g. regarding the majority shareholder’s vulnerability, and that of other parties including directors of companies that are directors of a subsidiary.

TERMS

  • De jure Director: A director at Law, registered at Companies House
  • De facto Director: A director in Fact, although not formally appointed, but who behaves as and is taken by the company and other directors to behave as a director
  • Shadow Director: “in accordance with whose directions or instructions the Board is accustomed to act”, not being a professional adviser retained to advise “real influence over the majority of board members”; [ii]

urban-crime-1156394-sfree images

Group Directors, Private funders and possibly venture capitalists could fall in to the trap of becoming “shadow directors”. What would happen to them on insolvency? This is tempered by such funders commonly requiring a directorship. Following Deverell,[iii] per Morritt J., a “nod and a wink” can amount to an “instruction”. A management consultant,[iv] a parent company,[v] and a “stakeholder”[vi] have all been held to be shadow directors. A bank could be a shadow director for example.

BACKGROUND

The Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of trial judge Rose J that the Defendant Guy Naggar, was not a de facto director or shadow director of Smithton Ltd, (formerly Hobart Capital Markets Ltd). Mr Naggar was a director of Hobart’s former holding company Dawnay Day, which operated under a joint venture agreement. Hobart entered into numerous transactions with clients introduced by Mr Naggar. Following the collapse of Dawnay Day, Hobart suffered losses around £4 million. Hobart sued Mr Naggar, seeking to recoup its losses claimingng an indemnity from him, contending that while he was not a duly appointed director of Hobart, he was a de facto or shadow director of Hobart and had acted in breach of his duties owed to Hobart.

very-old-books-849478-sfree images

DECISION

  • The evidence suggested that Mr Nagar was acting as chairman of Dawnay Day, Hobart’s parent company.
  • There was nothing that went beyond the involvement normally expected of someone combining the roles of major client and chairman of the majority shareholder.
  • There was no evidence that Hobart’s board were accustomed to complying with Mr Naggar’s instructions.
  • There was no basis for setting aside the judge’s conclusion that Mr Naggar had been involved with Hobart’s affairs other than in his capacity as a director of Dawnay Day or some other capacity than that of director of Hobart.
  • The judgment of Arden LJ (Elias, Tomlinson LJJ concurring) included points of general principle, applying and reaffirming the leading case of Revenue and Customs Commissioners v Holland[vii]

GENERAL PRINCIPLES

  1. There is no one definitive test whether a person was a de facto director, the question is whether he was part of the corporate governance system of the company and whether he assumed the status and function of a director so as to make himself responsible as if he were a director.
  2. Someone could be a de facto director even where there was no invalid appointment. The question was whether he had assumed responsibility to act as a director, and in what capacity he was acting.
  3. The court had to examine what the director actually did and not any job title.
  4. The court would need to consider the corporate governance structure of the company so as to decide in relation to the company’s business whether the individual’s acts were directorial in nature.
  5. The court should look at the cumulative effect of the activities relied on and should look at all the circumstances in the round.
  6. Whether an individual acted as a director is decided objectively and irrespective of their motivation or belief. A defendant did not avoid liability if he showed that he in good faith thought he was not acting as a director.
  7. Even a single directorial act could lead to liability in an exceptional case
  8. It was also important to look at the acts in their context. Relevant factors included whether
  • the company considered him to be a director and held him out as such
  • third parties considered that he was a director
  • a person was consulted about directorial decisions or his approval did not in general make him a director because he was not making the decision
    1. Acts outside the period when he was said to have been a de facto director might throw light on whether he was a de facto director in the relevant period.
    2. An individual can be both a shadow director and a de facto director at the same time, and there can be overlap.
    3. A de facto or shadow director’s role doesn’t have to cover all the company’s activities.
    4. Whether a person was a de facto or shadow director is a question of fact and degree.

network-plan-human-resources-diagram-legal-pad-pen-17977535

CONCLUSION

  • Where someone is a director of a holding company which is its subsidiary’s corporate director, provided that what that individual does is wholly within the ambit of his duties and responsibilities as a director of the corporate director/holding company, his acts would not make him a de facto director of that subsidiary (as in the instant case).
  • Groups of companies, directors (and those who may fall within the definition of de facto or shadow director of a holding company) should consider whether the directors of the parent company are an integral part of the subsidiary’s corporate governance and would be exposed to being deemed either de facto or shadow directors, or both.
  • This case helpfully applies the general principles and puts them in context.

 

[i] [2014] EWCA Civ 939

[ii] 251(1) of the Companies Act 2006

[iii] Deverell [2001] Ch. 340 CA (Civ Div

[iv] Tasiban Ltd (No.3), Re [1991] B.C.C. 435; [1991] B.C.L.C. 792 Ch D.

[v] Hydrodam (Corby) Ltd, Re [1994] B.C.C. 161; [1994] 2 B.C.L.C. 180 Ch D

[vi] Deverell [2001] Ch. 340 CA (Civ Div).

[vii] [2010] 1 WLR 2793

scales-145464_150pixaby