Businesses often depend on external professionals for a variety of services. These collaborations are often crucial for a company’s success, with high expectations for quality and expertise.
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However, not all professional engagements generate the expected outcomes. In cases where incorrect advice or services lead to measurable harm to the business, the path to recourse is through a claim for professional negligence.
This comprehensive guide discusses the step-by-step procedure for undertaking a professional negligence claim. It offers strategic insights for businesses and individuals who find themselves adversely impacted by the inadequate performance of a professional they entrusted.
What is a Professional Negligence Claim?
A professional negligence claim occurs when someone who has represented themselves as possessing specialised skills and knowledge falls short of the standards expected in their field, causing financial loss, damage, or harm to their client. This is not just about subpar service; it also includes instances where there has been a breach of the duty of care owed by the professional to their client.
To establish a claim of professional negligence, there must be a demonstrable duty of care that the professional owed to the claimant, a breach of this duty, and a direct causation linking this breach to the loss or damage suffered.
Who can be Sued for Professional Negligence?
Virtually any professional who offers advice or services in a specialised field can be sued for professional negligence if their conduct fails to meet the accepted standards of their profession, leading to a client’s detriment.
This includes solicitors, financial advisors, architects, accountants, auditors, surveyors and even medical or healthcare professionals. Basically, if a professional provides negligent advice or service that causes financial loss or damage, they may be subject to a professional negligence claim.
It’s important to note that making a claim for professional negligence often involves navigating complex legal frameworks. This emphasises the significance of seeking expert legal guidance from professional negligence solicitors.
They can assess the merits of your claim, guide you through the professional negligence pre-action protocol, and help ensure that your claim is presented effectively, increasing the chance of a successful claim.
Steps to Make a Professional Negligence Claim
Starting a professional negligence claim is a structured process involving several important steps that must be carefully followed to ensure the claim is valid and has the best chance of success. These include:
The Preliminary Notice serves as the initial step in professional negligence proceedings. It’s a formal written notification to the potential defendant(s) indicating that you are considering a claim against them. This is not just an indication of discontent; it is a vital document that lays the groundwork for your claim and must be prepared with precision and legal insight.
The contents of the Preliminary Notice should include:
- Identification of the Claimant and Other Parties: Clearly state who is making the claim and any other involved parties. This clarity is crucial for establishing the context of the claim.
- Outline of the Grievance: Provide a concise yet comprehensive summary of the grievance against the professional. This should detail the alleged negligence and how it has impacted you.
- Indication of Financial Value: If possible, offer a general idea of the financial value of the claim. This gives an initial scope of the claim’s magnitude and potential impact.
- Request for Professional Indemnity Insurance Notification: Ask the professional to inform their professional indemnity insurers about the suit. This step is critical, as failure to notify insurers may affect the validity of their insurance coverage.
Upon receipt of this Preliminary Notice, the professional is expected to acknowledge it within 21 days.
Letter of Claim
The next step is to draft and send a Letter of Claim to the party you hold accountable. The Letter of Claim, as per the Professional Negligence Pre-Action Protocol (PAP), must contain several critical elements:
- Identification of Parties: Clearly state the identities of all parties involved in the dispute, including those in any related disputes. This ensures all relevant parties are informed and involved from the outset.
- Chronological Summary of Facts: Furnish a thorough, chronological narrative of the occurrences leading to the claim, including key dates. This summary should be clear and concise, offering a timeline of how the alleged negligence unfolded.
- Document Requests: If there are relevant documents held by the professional that are crucial to your claim, this is the opportunity to request them. Reasonable requests for such documents are an integral part of building your case.
- Allegations Against the Professional: Detail what the professional did wrong or failed to do and what you believe they should have done in accordance with their professional standards.
- Explanation of Loss and Its Calculation: Describe how the professional’s actions or inactions led to your financial loss, including an estimate and how you arrived at that figure. If financial details are not immediately available, explain why and provide a timeline for when they will be.
- Expert Involvement: Confirm whether a specialist has been assigned to deliver evidence in your case. If so, include the expert’s details.
- Insurance Notification Request: Ask the defendant to deliver a copy of the Letter of Claim to the professional’s indemnity insurers. This ensures that the insurers are aware of the potential claim.
- Adjudication Consideration: State whether you are open to adjudication as a dispute resolution approach. If so, propose adjudicators or seek a nomination; if not, clearly explain your reasons.
It’s vital to remember that the Letter of Claim sets the stage for potential court proceedings. If the contents of this letter significantly differ from the Statement of Case in any subsequent legal action, the court may impose sanctions. Additionally, if you have sent similar Letters of Claim to other parties in relation to the same or a related dispute, those should also be included with this letter.
Letter of Acknowledgment
The defendant professional should issue the Letter of Acknowledgment within 21 days of receiving your Letter of Claim. This response time is a legal requirement under the professional negligence pre-action protocol. The acknowledgement serves as a formal notice that the professional has received your claim and is aware of the allegations and potential legal actions.
In cases where the defendant professional fails to provide this acknowledgement within the stipulated 21-day period, it could have significant implications. Such an omission can lead the court to impose sanctions on the defendant, reflecting negatively on their response to the claim.
The investigations phase allows the defendant professional to thoroughly examine the details of the claim and prepare an appropriate response.
The defendant is allocated a period of three months from the date of the Letter of Acknowledgment to conduct this investigation. This timeframe is essential for the professional to gather all necessary information, review documents, and assess the claim’s validity and potential impact.
All parties need to be cooperative during this stage. The claimant should be ready to supply any relevant information or documentation reasonably requested by the professional. Prompt and transparent sharing of information is crucial for a fair and efficient investigation.
If the professional encounters difficulties adhering to the three-month investigation period, they must inform the claimant as soon as possible, ideally well before the deadline. This communication should include details about the nature of the difficulties, steps taken to address them, and an estimated timeline for providing a Letter of Response and/or Letter of Settlement.
Also, if the professional wants to file a claim against a third party not currently involved in the dispute, the accuser needs to be told about this party in writing as soon as possible.
Letter of Response and Letter of Settlement
After concluding their investigations, typically within a 90-day window, the defendant professional, guided by their legal team, issues either a Letter of Response, a Letter of Settlement, or both. These documents play a crucial role in professional negligence disputes, as they determine the possible paths towards resolution.
Letter of Response
This letter, which is an open letter (so it can be admissible in court), addresses the allegations laid out in the Letter of Claim. While it doesn’t hold the formal status of a Defence in court proceedings, any significant discrepancies between the Letter of Response and a subsequent Defence can attract court sanctions. The Letter of Response should:
- Clarify which aspects of the claim are accepted or denied, or request further information if neither is possible.
- Address every accusation made in the Letter of Claim.
- Include the professional’s interpretation of occurrences, especially if they differ from the claimant’s account.
- Address the claimant’s estimated financial loss, offering a counter-estimate or explaining any inability to do so.
- Include key documents relevant to the case that have not been exchanged earlier.
Letter of Settlement
This letter outlines the professional’s proposal for settling the claim or identifies additional information needed to prepare such a proposal. The Letter of Settlement can take various forms, including open communication and ‘without prejudice’. It should:
- Present the professional’s perspective on the claim, highlighting disputable and non-disputable issues.
- Propose a settlement or specify further information needed to propose one.
- Include copies of any further documents relied upon in the proposal.
These letters are integral to the professional negligence claim process, offering a chance for resolution before resorting to court. They reflect the professional’s stance on the claim and their willingness to negotiate a settlement, playing a significant role in the trajectory of the dispute.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is recognised as a viable and often preferable alternative to traditional court proceedings. The Professional Negligence Pre-Action Protocol (PAP) encourages explicitly parties to consider ADR as a means to resolve disputes.
ADR encompasses various methods, each tailored to different dispute natures and circumstances:
- Mediation: Involves an independent mediator assisting the parties in finding a cooperative resolution. This process is collaborative and often preferred for its flexibility and confidentiality.
- Arbitration: While less common in professional negligence cases, arbitration is where a third party decides on the dispute. It’s typically used when a specific arbitration clause is in the professional’s terms.
- Adjudication: This is where an independent party offers a binding decision on the entire claim or specific issues. It’s less frequently used in professional negligence and generally favoured for lower-value or straightforward claims.
ADR should ideally be offered or suggested within the Letter of Claim, Letter of Response, or Letter of Settlement. The courts actively encourage ADR and may impose sanctions on parties that unreasonably refuse to engage in such processes.
If a case proceeds to court, parties may be needed to supply proof that ADR was considered. A refusal to engage in ADR or not responding to an invitation to participate can be viewed unfavourably by the court, potentially leading to orders for the non-cooperating party to pay additional costs.
What’s the Time Limit of a Professional Negligence Claim?
Understanding the time restriction is crucial when considering a professional negligence claim. The law specifies a specific time limit for initiating such claims. Generally, you have six years from when the professional failed to meet the requisite standard of care to commence legal proceedings.
However, this time limit can vary under certain conditions. For instance, if you become aware of the negligence later, the limitation period may be reduced to three years from this realisation.
It’s important to seek prompt legal advice from professional negligence lawyers or a law firm specialising in such matters to understand the specific time limits applicable to your case. They can provide valuable insights and guidance on the nuances of the civil procedure rules and ensure your claim is brought within the right timeframe to defend your rights.
Let Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors Help You To Bring a Claim!
If you’re dealing with the complexities of a professional negligence claim, having a seasoned legal team by your side can make all the difference. At Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, we specialise in helping individuals and businesses bring forward such claims with confidence and clarity.
Our team of proficient civil litigation professionals understands the details of professional negligence disputes. We provide personalised guidance every step of the way – from the preliminary notice to exploring alternative dispute resolution options and, if necessary, representing in the court. Our expertise assures that your case is presented compellingly and effectively, maximising your chances of a successful outcome.
Don’t let the stress and indecision of a professional negligence claim devastate you. Contact Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors today, and let us help you bring your claim forward with the skill, dedication, and attention it deserves. Together, we can work towards achieving the justice and settlement you are entitled to.
A valid claim for compensation typically involves proving that a professional failed to uphold their duty of care, leading to financial loss or damage. The claim must be based on facts demonstrating this breach and the resulting harm.
Yes, you can make claims against solicitors if they have provided negligent advice or service that resulted in a loss. These claims are assessed based on the solicitor’s duty of care and your reliance on their advice.
Typically, you have six years from the date of the negligence to bring a claim, but this can vary. In cases where you only become aware of the negligence later, you may be able to make a claim within three years from that point to make your claim.
Legal costs can vary depending on the sophistication of the case. These costs include fees for legal advice, preparation of claim forms, and court fees if the claim proceeds to litigation.
The pre-action protocol for professional negligence sets out the steps and procedures to be followed before initiating legal action, including providing the professional with details of the claim and allowing them to respond.
Before launching a professional negligence claim, it is crucial to have legal counsel in order to evaluate the claim’s viability, grasp the pre-action procedure requirements, and determine the appropriate path of action.
Our legal team specialises in a wide range of dispute and litigation areas, including but not limited to claims against professional negligence, commercial litigation, out of court disputes, contract disputes, employee settlement disputes, employment law issues, family law matters, and property disputes.
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