A recent High Court ruling has highlighted how important it is to choose a legal adviser with the proper qualifications and expertise, when making a medical negligence claim. In a case concerning an unqualified adviser, Judge Jennifer Eady, QC, found that George Rusz and his firm Troy Lucas and Co in Romford were professionally negligent in the handling of a medical negligence claim brought by Paul Wright. Mr Wright was left permanently disabled after three plastic bags were mistakenly left inside his body during an operation at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital NHS Trust in 2004.
Unqualified legal advice can lead to a poorly presented case and losses for the claimant
When he decided to make a claim for compensation, Mr Wright instructed Romford firm, Troy Lucas and Co, to handle it. The firm’s advertising promoted “affordable legal advice” and their headed stationery implied that they were credible litigators. However, whilst Mr Rusz has a Law Degree from the Open University, he had no legal training and, as such, was not regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This also meant that neither he nor Troy Lucas & Co were required to have insurance.
Mr Rusz was criticised by the Judge for the way he had mishandled the case, including not complying with court orders, not taking advice from his barrister and seeking ‘fantastical’ sums for damages of £1m-£3m without submitting the necessary evidence.
As a result of negligent advice given to him by George Rusz, Mr Wright was only able to pursue part of his claim. Mr Wright settled that part of his claim for £20,000 in 2011. However, this was a significant undersettlement on the value of the full claim. He was also left with a bill for £73,200, which he was ordered to pay towards the legal costs incurred by the hospital.
Undersettlement and a second legal action
Tami Frankel is an APIL-accredited senior litigator and medical negligence solicitor at Gadsby Wicks – a specialist, claimant-only law firm regulated by the SRA and with a reputation for championing the cause of the claimant. Here, she urges people to be aware of the problems they can face if they choose an unqualified advisor to handle their medical negligence claim:
“This case does have a happy ending in that Troy Lucas & Co and Mr Rusz were ordered to pay Mr Wright £263,759 to compensate him for the undersettlement of his claim. However, in order to obtain that ruling from the Judge, Mr Wright first had to realise that the advice he had received was deficient. He then had to take a second legal action to try and prove that the advice was negligent.
“This is a concern as not everyone who is advised by unregulated advisers will be in that position. And those who are able to bring a second successful legal action may find that, despite an order from the court, they may not actually receive the compensation because unregulated advisers are not required by law to be insured.”
How can an unqualified person give legal advice?
“In some countries, including England and Wales, it is legal for people to charge for legal services, without holding any professional legal qualifications” explains Tami. “Since the withdrawal of Legal Aid for certain types of case, there has been an increase in unregulated advisers offering legal services. However, what clients often don’t realise is that instructing a regulated, qualified and experienced specialist lawyer to handle their case – especially with regard to medical negligence claims which are often complex – can make a significant difference to the outcome, and their pocket.”
What difference can a specialist medical negligence lawyer make?
An experienced litigator with solid experience and specialist expertise in handling medical negligence claims will:
- Have extensive legal and medical knowledge
- Know how to build a strong case
- Know what evidence is needed to support the claim and be able to prepare it according to legal requirements
- Be able to estimate a realistic level of compensation for the claimant to seek
- Be able to navigate the legal system efficiently and effectively
- Have the ability and experience to negotiate an appropriate settlement in order to avoid having to go to Court.
Can I afford to go to a specialist medical negligence solicitor?
“I think the question is more ‘can I afford not to?” says Tami. “In this case, if Mr Wright had engaged a legally qualified and regulated expert lawyer, he would have received more than 10 times the amount which he originally had to accept and he would not have been left with a five-figure bill for costs.
“Thankfully, the Judge ruled in Mr Wright’s favour and George Rusz was not only ordered to pay him the shortfall of £263,759 in damages he should have been due, but also the £73,200 costs. However, it’s significant to note that Mr Wright’s medical accident took place back in 2004 and his medical negligence claim settled in 2011. It is only now – in 2019 – that he has received this ruling and the issue is finally resolved for him. Had Mr Wright been given proper legal advice from the beginning, he would have had the benefit of the right level of compensation a number of years ago.”
Choose carefully when getting legal advice
Tami adds: “In Mr Wright’s case, the Judge also ruled that unqualified people – also referred to as ‘McKenzie Friends’ – have a legal duty of care to their clients and should be held to the same standards as a competent legal adviser. But the issue of non-regulation of unqualified advisers is something that lawyers are urging the Ministry of Justice to address.
“At Gadsby Wicks, we hope that the Government now sees it as a priority to protect the public from the consequences of unregulated legal advice as highlighted by Mr Wright’s experience”.
If you have been injured, your prognosis has worsened or you have required additional surgery as a result of your medical treatment, please speak to our specialists in confidence on 0800 321 3112 or click here to make an enquiry
- Tami Frankel is a specialist medical negligence solicitor and Partner at Gadsby Wicks. She is an accredited APIL Senior Litigator and Clinical Negligence Specialist and holds the Law Society’s Clinical Negligence Accreditation.
- For further information on choosing expert legal representation, please see ‘Over 25 years of specialist medical negligence expertise – the difference it makes to your claim’