Negligence legal costs can be three times as much as compensation

Legal costs in some lower-value medical negligence claims can be double or even triple the amount of compensation paid to patients. 

Figures in the Medical Defence Union’s (MDU’s) annual report for 2021 reveal the average sum paid in claimants’ legal costs on medical claims settled for up to £10,000 was in excess of £18,500. 

For claims settled between £10,000 and £25,000, the average was nearly £35,000. 

The not-for-profit indemnifier called on the Government to proceed quickly with the reforms needed to the clinical negligence system to make disproportionate legal costs a thing of the past. 

Dr Matthew Lee

Its chief executive Dr Matthew Lee said: ‘Disproportionate legal costs are one of several defects in the current litigation system and particularly affect lower value claims. 

‘It cannot be right for legal costs paid to claimants’ lawyers to regularly exceed the damages paid to claimants by double or triple the amount.’ 

Strain on public finances

The MDU says the NHS is also facing disproportionate costs which put a strain on public finances. It pointed to the latest annual report from NHS Resolution, revealing claimant legal costs increased in 2021-22 by 5.1% to £470.9m. NHS legal costs for the same period were £156.6m.

Dr Lee said: ‘The Government recently closed a consultation on introducing fixed, proportionate legal costs for cases valued up to £25,000. 

‘While we believe that the scheme should apply to claims up to £250,000 to have a real impact, the government has promised a more ambitious consultation this year on wider reforms. This cannot come soon enough.’

Mr Paul Riordan-Eva

MDU chairman, Mr Paul Riordan-Eva, added: ‘We often hear it said that legal costs could be avoided if offers of compensation were made early and fault admitted. At the MDU, we will never settle a claim involving a member for the sake of financial expediency. 

‘We successfully defend the majority of claims we receive and understand the need to protect members’ reputations. During 2021, we closed 85% of medical claims without a payment of damages.’ 

Mr Riordan-Eva, a consultant ophthalmologist at King’s College Hospital, London, called for urgent legal reforms to make the cost of clinical negligence proportionate and affordable.

The MDU’s Fair Compensation campaign has more details about the changes it wishes to see.