Piper v Slater and Gordon : a full refund of £4,052.35 in a tragic case in which Slater and Gordon's late client, Ian Turnbull, had 97 seconds to "e-sign" a CFA during his initial call
Checkmylegalfees.com are pleased to report on our victory in securing a refund of £4,052.35 for our client in this case.
We were instructed in October 2020 by Rebecca Piper, whose brother Ian had initially instructed Slater and Gordon following a road traffic accident on 8th November 2016 when he was hit at speed from behind while stationary in traffic on the M5. He sustained physical injuries to his neck and back, and psychological injury including post-traumatic stress disorder, which meant that he was unable to work for six months and even then, as a construction worker, he could not do the jobs that he had done before. The serious financial impact on him led to him losing his home and he ended up sleeping at friends' houses and sleeping in his car for nearly six months before moving into a caravan in June 2018.
On 4th April 2018 Slater & Gordon wrote to Ian valuing his personal injury claim, based on the medical evidence, at between £2,800 to £3,000. Two weeks later this valuation was increased to £5,500 to £6,000. As far as we are aware Ian was not given any further update with regard to the valuation of his claim.
Ian's last texts to his mum before he took his own life said that he found the paperwork he had received from Slater & Gordon was overwhelming and that he wanted to change solicitors
Ian tragically took his own life on 14th November 2019 and, as administrator of his estate, Rebecca instructed Slater & Gordon to complete the claim. Ian's compensation claim ultimately settled on 29th June 2020 for £60,000 and Slater & Gordon deducted £4,052.35 as legal fees from Ian's compensation.
Rebecca and the family had a number of concerns about the way in which Ian's case had been handled and questions about how Slater and Gordon had calculated their charges.
By the time she instructed us she had already received a full copy of the file of papers from Slater and Gordon for the period up to Ian's death, but also a number of other documents including a recording of the call in which, just the day after the accident and still appearing to be in pain and shock – and having been patched through to Slater & Gordon by his insurance brokers – Ian was "signed up" to Slater & Gordon's no win no fee agreement while still on the phone and within just over 90 seconds of being sent it by email.
With the permission of Rebecca and her family that recording is produced in full below, together with a transcript (the contents of which have been agreed by Slater and Gordon). Both have been bleeped or redacted to avoid identifying any individuals other than Mr.Turnbull.
In our view Ian did not have the opportunity to even read the documentation that he was sent, let alone to understand it or give "informed consent" to it. It is not even described to him during the call as a "contract" that has obligations and financial consequences. Ian was simply told "In order for us to proceed with your compensation for the injury, we'll need to send you a claim pack", which he then struggled to receive and and, once he did so, had electronically signed 97 seconds later without what we consider to be a sufficiently detailed explanation as to just what he was signing up to or how it would work. Readers can make their own minds up as to whether he actually received any explanation at all.
Sign up summary
Ian receives the communication containing the "claim pack" (15 pages, mostly in very small fonts ranging from 6 point to 9 point in size) at 17 minutes 32 seconds into the call. He "accepts" the document that he has been sent at 17 minutes 53 seconds (though it is not clear what "acceptance" actually means), is directed to "I confirm" at 18 minutes and 8 seconds (though again, it is not clear what he is being asked to confirm or how he does so) and receives confirmation that his signature has been accepted at 19 minutes and 9 seconds. That is a total of 97 seconds.
We think this is similar to the way many "no win no fee" agreements are entered into and reinforces why the principal of "informed consent" is so important to the terms that are agreed between solicitors and their clients. It has been recognised for a long time that solicitors are "fiduciaries", which means that the relationship with the client is one of trust and confidence and that the client is entitled to the undivided loyalty of the solicitor, and the solicitor has a duty to be open about all material facts concerning the relationship.
Many solicitors are now trying argue that those duties do not kick in until after the client has signed up to the terms of business.
But in Ian's case, we think it is clear that Ian put his trust and confidence in Slater and Gordon from the point that they undertook to deal with his case for him. And that, ultimately, is what all clients do. Most people go to a solicitor because something life changing has happened or is about to happen whether that is an accident, medical negligence, divorce, a death or a dispute that might have a significant impact upon them. Solicitors are uniquely qualified to assist in those circumstances and clients are entitled to properly understand how they will be charged before making a potentially significant financial commitment.Mark Carlisle, CMLF Founder
There were a number of concerns that we had about the way in which fees had been deducted from Ian's compensation, which led to us issuing an application for assessment of their bill under s.70 Solicitors Act 1974 on 9th November 2020 –
Amongst those concerns were -
At the outset of Ian's case Slater and Gordon had, they said, taken out an "after the event" insurance policy with Elite Insurance for the sum of £258.87. This was said to still provide Rebecca with cover when she took over the claim for the estate following Ian's death and was referred to in Slater and Gordon's bill of costs.
Our enquiries with Elite however, through their administrators PWC, revealed two surprising things –
- Firstly, PWC said that according to Elite's records the premium had not in fact been paid and that the records showed that the claim was still "on cover" (which means they had not been told that it had concluded)
- Secondly, they said that if the premium had been paid to Elite then a "claims handling fee" of £30.00 and a "claims fund contribution" of £176.13 would both have become payable to a company called Intelligent Claims Management Limited. So, the insurer would have retained £52.74 with a total of £206.13 going to Intelligent Claims Management Limited.
We argued it was simply not possible for Slater and Gordon to satisfy a court that Ian had given "informed consent" to any of their terms of business in the just over 90 seconds that he had before being committed to them. We asked them to disclose documents to show precisely what the electronic sign up process that Ian had gone through involved, but they refused.
Why is the ATE Insurance issue important?
Intelligent Claims Management Limited is described in its latest accounts as "a member of the Slater and Gordon Consolidated Group whose ultimate parent entity is Slater and Gordon UK Holdings Limited". Its directors are also directors of Slater and Gordon UK Limited and it shares the same registered office address. The nature of its business according to Companies House is "Business and domestic software development"
In 2015 Intelligent Claims Management Limited turned over £20 million and made a net profit of £16.45 million.
Intelligent Claims Management Limited are not solicitors and we have no way of knowing whether and to what extent their profits are or were driven by this sort of activity. For solicitors dealing with ATE insurance however it is unlawful for them to make a profit out of commission arrangements that have not been disclosed to clients.
How matters were concluded
Although we asked formal questions about the alleged ATE premium in January 2021, Slater and Gordon refused to answer them and it was not until 29th April 2021 that Slater and Gordon accepted in a witness statement that the ATE premium had not in fact been paid at all, and was not therefore included in the £4,052.35 that had been deducted from compensation. They accepted that an earlier letter had said that it was included, and that a "calculation" that had been attached to their bill of costs "does erroneously show that the premium had been deducted from damages in addition to the 10% deduction".
On 6th July 2021 Slater and Gordon agreed that they would refund the whole of the £4,052.35, although it took them a further 22 days to actually make the payment.
The Costs of the Proceedings
There was a dispute about who should pay the costs of the proceedings, which was ultimately resolved by Costs Judge Rowley at a hearing on 23rd November 2021.
Slater and Gordon were ordered to pay the costs of the claim up until close of business on 1st December 2021, that being one day after they had made an offer to refund the whole of the £4,052.35 that had been deducted from compensation, but which stipulated that it could only be accepted subject to the parties entering into a confidentiality agreement, which our client rejected as it was important to her for the outcome of her case to be in the public domain.
Where Rebecca and the family are now with Slater and Gordon generally
Rebecca and her family continue to pursue matters relating to the service that Ian received through a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman -
Ian was a son, brother, uncle, and dear friend to many. He was a hard-working, kind-hearted, do-anything-for-anyone kind of guy. He lived a simple life and didn't want for much. Almost 3 years to the day after his accident, Ian sadly took his own life. This came as a complete shock to everyone. We were all left heart-broken, with so many questions as to why. To make sure his death wasn't in vain, it was important for us to finish the claim for him and get to the bottom of what really happened and why this tragedy took place. It has become our mission, after realising the extent of the poor service he received, to find the truth and to stop the same thing happening to other vulnerable people.Rebecca Piper, Ian's sister