National firm not liable over ‘general and preliminary’ helpline advice

National firm Irwin Mitchell could not be held legally responsible for a holidaymaker who was unable to recover damages for a ‘grievous, life-changing’ holiday injury, the Court of Appeal has found.

In Carol Miller v Irwin Mitchell LLP a woman who lost a leg following an accident brought a claim for professional negligence against Irwin Mitchell which she said owed her a duty of care under an implied retainer from the date she called its helpline.

Lady Justice Andrews said though she had ‘considerable sympathy’ for Miller the ‘situation was not something for which Irwin Mitchell could be held legally responsible’.

The judge said: ‘The specific contention that there was an implied retainer … was fatally undermined by an abundance of evidence pointing to the opposite conclusion.’

The firm’s legal helpline was a means of attracting prospective clients, and the question of a possible retainer would arise only after the relevant legal team had considered the information and documents they had requested. 

She added that the advice given on the helpline was ‘general and preliminary’ and the legal adviser made that clear so ‘the caller would understand that it was not set in stone, and that detailed advice relating to the specific circumstances of the caller’s case could only follow after the specialist legal team to which they would then be referred had examined the matter in more detail’.

The judgment said: ‘In general, a solicitor is not obliged to advise even a client with whom there is a formal contractual relationship to take steps to safeguard against the risk of unenforceability of a judgment due to the insolvency or impecuniosity of the other party to actual or prospective litigation, unless he is specifically put on notice that they are in financial difficulties.’

Lady Justice Andrews dismissed Miller’s appeal. Lady Justice Falk and Lord Justice Phillips agreed.