Resiling from admissions and relief from sanctions
Moore v Worcestershire NHS Trust
12 February 2015
In this recently published judgment, the court had to consider the relationship between the rules on withdrawing admissions, setting aside judgment and granting relief from sanctions. Perhaps surprisingly given the errors made by the defendant, the judge upheld the first instance decision and allowed the withdrawal of admissions made pre-litigation, but the judgment is a thorough and considered one, providing helpful guidance on the operation of the rules. Andrew Cousins reviews the judgment and its practical implications. Moore v Worcestershire NHS Trust (2015).
The claimant brought a claim against the defendant NHS Trust for alleged clinical negligence. Following an initial complaint of earache from the seven year old claimant, it took three visits to hospital before she was diagnosed as having a rare infection. By then the infection had spread through her body resulting in severe damage to her hip which would require treatment for the rest of her life.
After obtaining a preliminary medical advice, the defendant wrote to the claimant admitting “primary causation” but requiring the claimant to be examined for the purposes of “full causation and condition and prognosis”. Following that examination and on receipt of the report, the defendant wrote a further letter admitting liability and conceding that the breach of duty caused the hip damage.
The claimant later commenced proceedings. After a number of agreed extensions of time for service of the defence, the defendant made a formal application for a further extension. The Master refused the application and entered judgment. However, during that hearing the defendant indicated it was contemplating an application to withdraw the admissions. It emerged that the defendant had made the admissions in error and on a “careless and cursory” reading of the evidence. By the time of the costs and case management conference, the defendant had regrouped and applied to withdraw the admissions. This time the Master granted the application, set aside the judgment and permitted service of a defence denying breach of duty. The claimant appealed these findings.
His Honour Judge Bidder QC dismissing the appeal held:
The admissions were purely a mistake and their withdrawal was not a tactical change by the defendant designed to prejudice the claimant. Consideration of a withdrawal of a pre-action admission did not import the full factors of relief from sanctions, but CPR r.14 which deals with admissions does not stand alone and the overriding objective must be considered. There was no irreparable damage caused to the claimant by the withdrawal and it was not right to deprive the defendant of a defence which had prospects of success.
The index case was not analogous to an application for relief from sanctions and it followed that after allowing the withdrawal of the admissions the default judgment had to be set aside as this meant the defendant must have a reasonable prospect of success.
The defendant had been relying upon the agreed extensions and court orders to file their defence until time expired, and as such even if the provisions of Denton and issues of relief from sanctions needed to be considered (which the court found they did not), the defendant satisfied those provisions.
For further information please contact Andrew Cousins, Solicitor Advocate on +44 (0)161 603 5093.
This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.