Legal fees halved by judge in case of boy who lost part of finger

Scales of Justice

23 February 2022

A High Court judge has slashed a legal costs bill in a personal injuries case as he approved an “all-in settlement” of €30,000 for a young boy who had hurt his hand when playing near his home.

The child had suffered a crush injury and lost a fingertip after a drain cover fell closed on his left hand seven years ago. The settlement is against South Dublin County Council.

In the High Court on Monday, Mr Justice Garrett Simons reduced legal costs in the case to €6,788 from a proposed figure of €13,000 of the overall award.

This means that the child, who is now 15 years of age, will receive €23,211 of the total “all in” settlement.

This is the second time in so many weeks that Mr Justice Simons has reduced legal costs bills in an all-in settlement figure put before court for approval.

Last week a 16-year-old boy whose little finger was amputated down to the first knuckle after he fell on an ice rink and another skater ran over his hand, settled for an “all-in figure“ of €32,500. Legal costs, which had been submitted as amounting to €12,500, were reduced to €8,445.

In his ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Simons noted the boy, who was seven years old at the time of the accident in July 2014, suffered compound fractures to his left middle finger. 

His fingertip had to be formally shortened under general anaesthetic. While the boy has made a good recovery, medical evidence was that he has been left with a permanent and significant deformity.

The judge said South Dublin County Council made a number of offers to settle the proceedings and these were all in inclusive of damages and legal costs.

An offer of €25,000 was brought to the court for approval in January this year which allotted €12,500 each to damages and costs.

On that occasion, the court expressed concern the legal costs appeared high relative to the level of damages. The case was adjourned to allow the child’s solicitor to put in material to assist the court in assessing what the appropriate amount for legal costs should be.

The settlement offer was then increased to €30,000 with €17,000 in damages with the balance of €13,000 on legal costs.

Mr Justice Simons said there was a real likelihood the boy’s claim would be dismissed.

It was claimed against the local authority that it had been negligent in installing drain covers that were not lockable. The judge said the Council’s engineering evidence was that the drain cover had been installed thirty years before the accident and was in good condition. It was not standard practice to fit locks to drain covers because it might prevent access to the drain in an emergency.

It seemed unlikely a trial judge would find the local authority had been negligent in not replacing the drain covers at the scene of the accident with a modern lockable design.

The €30,000 settlement figure the judge said represented a fair and reasonable offer and should be approved. The case should have been brought in the Circuit Court and the legal costs “must reflect this reality”, he said.

Referring to the €6,000 plus VAT proposed for the solicitor’s professional fees in the legal costs, the judge said the solicitor’s work had been largely confined to the curation of the case and liaising between the child’s mother, counsel, and the engineer. The paperwork generated in the case was minimal, running to less than fifty pages, the judge said.

“I have concluded that the reasonable amount recoverable in respect of the solicitor’s fees is €2,000 plus VAT. The figure reflects the reality that the burden of the work in this case has been shared with counsel,“ he said, adding the figure equated to 20 hours of work.

The judge also said the engineer’s suggested fee of €2,440 Plus VAT fee for site inspection and report was unreasonable and he allowed €650 plus VAT.

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