Friday 27 April 2018

State Claims Agency slashes lawyers' fees

Legal costs have escalated in recent years Stock photo: Bigstock
Legal costs have escalated in recent years Stock photo: Bigstock

Simon Rowe

Measures introduced to slash legal costs associated with parties suing the state for medical negligence and personal injury led to savings of more than €2m in 2015.

The State Claims Agency (SCA) is targeting what it describes as "overclaims" by legal firms in a bid to cut spiralling costs by way of "cost review and negotiation".

Figures from the SCA reveal that the process is achieving big savings for the taxpayer.

In a list of the 'Top 10 negotiated legal cost savings' in 2015, one firm, Callan Tansey Solicitors, had its legal costs bill reduced by €717,000, and Augustine Cullen Law Solicitors had its costs bill reduced by €555,000.

Bernadette Barry Solicitors in Dublin had the highest 'overclaim' figure in 2015. The Clondalkin-based firm submitted a legal costs bill of €257,547. But the final 'paid plaintiff legal costs' were cut to just €63,176. This was a saving of €194,372, or a percentage saving of 75.4pc.

James O'Brien Solicitors of Nenagh, Co Tipperary, submitted an initial legal costs bill of €396,726. The final 'paid plaintiff legal costs' were €129,151 - a saving of 67.4pc.

Third on the list is Limerick-based Robert Cussen and Son Solicitors. A legal costs bill of €520,822 was cut to €283,174 - a saving of 45.6pc.

Wicklow-based Augustine Cullen Law Solicitors appear three times in the top 10 (ranking in fourth, ninth and 10th place) with an average of 40pc savings made in each cost bill submitted to the SCA.

Plaintiff legal costs relate to payments to solicitors and barristers, and are also inclusive of expert fees, which may relate to actuarial, engineering, medical, or witness fees.

Michael Boylan, managing partner and head of medical negligence at Augustine Cullen Law Solicitors, said the SCA payments his firm is in receipt of "would cover in any given year approximately 50 trials/settlements of High Court actions".

But he blames the SCA's "defend and delay" tactics for the costs spiral."It is still our experience that instead of openness and early admission of fault, a practice on the part of the HSE, hospitals and the State Claims Agency of mounting unmeritorious defences persists.

Admissions of fault when they occur happen far too late and often only on the day of trial, or even after the trial has commenced. This leads to an inevitable escalation of legal costs which could be avoided," said Mr Boylan.

Sunday Indo Business

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