Eighteen claimant firms have won a court battle against a rival which wanted to turn claims against the Ministry of Defence into a group litigation order.
National firm Hugh James Solicitors had applied to the court to group together noise-induced hearing loss claims on behalf of members of the armed forces. The application was supported by the defendant in the claims, the MoD.
But the firm was at loggerheads with 18 other firms which opposed the grant of a GLO and are instructed by around 5,000 claimants.
Following a hearing last month, Mr Justice Garnham ruled in Abbott & Ors v Ministry of Defence that Hugh James had failed to make out a case to meet the threshold for a group litigation order. The judge rejected a submission from the MoD that without a group order it would effectively play a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ spending vast amounts of time and money responding to numerous similar individual actions.
‘There is nothing to suggest that there are huge numbers of county court cases likely to go to trial in the near future, and we anticipate that proper case management in the individual cases will greatly reduce that risk,’ said the judge.
‘It is said that a GLO will avoid the duplication of evidence in successive cases. However, first, that assertion presupposes the same issue will be litigated repeatedly and that seems to us very unlikely. And second, there is no evidence that that has occurred to date.’
Hugh James had argued in court that military deafness claims had significant common issues and that without a group order, trials would take place in different courts to hear evidence that was already accepted.
The MoD submitted that the involvement of up to 10,000 potential claims made a GLO ‘almost irresistible’. It added that the issues identified in the Hugh James cases were common or related issues of fact or law. The huge number of claims currently issued or contemplated could not be satisfactorily and effectively managed in accordance with normal procedures and the other options were all ‘unpalatable’.
But in a joint submission, the 18 opposing firms said the GLO was ‘neither necessary or workable’. They said Hugh James had made no attempt to classify the claims to identify the issues, and the court could not be satisfied there were common issues at stake. Military deafness claims had been brought for many years without inconsistent judgments and indeed many of the opposing parties’ cases were at such an advanced stage they were ready to settle.
The court accepted that the risk of inconsistent judgments existed but said there had been no evidence of this happening to date. It was very unlikely that the same issues would be relitigated and the judge rejected the idea that huge numbers of county court cases would go to trial, dismissing suggestions that without a GLO the ‘floodgates’ would open.
Following the ruling, a Hugh James spokesperson said: ‘The commitment and focus of our specialist military lawyers remains with our clients, in this case the thousands of current and former military personnel who have suffered hearing loss because of unprotected exposure to excessive levels of noise during service. Now this judgment has been received, we can continue our work to secure the redress they so rightly deserve.’
In a joint statement, the opposing firms said: ‘This was an issue of access to justice. Had we not joined forces, the inescapable consequence was that our clients, and any other would-be claimant seeking to claim damages for noise induced hearing loss against the MoD would have faced huge uncertainty and intolerable delay.’
The opposing firms were Alma Law, AWH Solicitors, BLZ Solicitors, Clear Law, Eldred Law, Gorvins, Greenbank Lawyers, Imperium Law, Irwin Mitchell, Jiva Solicitors, JMW Solicitors, Kinetic Law, M&S Law, Russell Worth Solicitors, Simpson Millar, Slater and Gordon, Veritas Solicitors LLP and Watkins & Gunn.