Beware – failure to pay the correct court fee when commencing a claim will likely result in limitation continuing to run

In the recent case of Lewis -v- Ward Hadaway [2015] EWHC 3503, it was held that a claim form which wrongly valued the claim was invalid and so did not stop the limitation running.

The case concerned 31 professional negligence claims against a firm of solicitors. All claim forms were issued at court within the statutory limitation period but the sought amounts for damages than had been stated in the Pre-Action Protocol Letters of Claim.

The claimants subsequently amended the value of their claims, to increase them, and paid the balance of the court fees due. These amendments were made prior to the service of proceedings.

The defendant applied for summary judgment against the claimants. The successful argument advanced by the defendant was that – in order for limitation to stop running – a claimant must validly issue a claim form. A claim form that provided an incorrect value was not valid and so the limitation continued to run.

The defendant’s other argument was that it was an abuse of process to knowingly understate the value of a claim in order to avoid the correct court fee. The court accepted this argument but did not strike out the claimants’ claims on this ground because it was disproportionate in the circumstances.

The decision demonstrates the importance of correctly pleading the value of a claim and paying the correct court fee. Solicitors should be considering and discussing the funding of such fees with claimants at the outset of a case.

In a general context, the case also highlights the funding difficulties presented to claimants as a result of the increased court fees, which have created a further hurdle to the access to justice.

It is important for claimants to seek timely legal advice to avoid losing the right to bring a claim. In certain cases, we are able to assist claimants with the funding of high court fees. If you would like assistance in this regard, please contact Carl Arreghini or call 01202 636212.

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