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No double recovery in land case

Maden v Clifford Coppock and Carter - (Court of Appeal - 30 July 2004)

The claimant purchased land using the legal services of Mark Goodwin and Co. Subsequently, Mr Wardle, who occupied an acre of the purchased land, sought a declaration that he had title to that land and damages.

The claimant instructed Clifford Coppock and Carter to handle both the proceedings bought by Mr Wardle and the claimant's claim against Goodwins for professional negligence. The claimant settled his claim against Goodwins for £100,000 plus costs. Executors for Mr Wardle subsequently won Mr Wardle's case for adverse possession. The claimant lost part of his land and was liable for damages, Mr Wardle's costs and his own costs.

The claimant sued Cliffords for professional negligence, claiming that it had wrongly advised him that provided his offer of settlement to Mr Wardle was not beaten at court, he would not have to pay Mr Wardle's costs.

This advice was held at first instance to have been incorrect as Cliffords had failed to advise that Mr Wardle's primary claim was for land. Had the claimant been properly advised, he would have offered Mr Wardle more money to settle the claim.

Cliffords was ordered to pay damages for loss of value of Mr Wardle's land in addition to the claimant's various costs. Cliffords argued that it should not have to pay damages for loss of value of his land as the claimant had already been fully compensated for this by Goodwins.

The Court of Appeal held that loss compensated for in one set of proceedings would not normally be recoverable in another. However, it held that one has to look at the particular facts. Here the claimant had two separate claims and the heads of damage were unrelated. The claimant had settled his claim against Goodwins before Cliffords was negligent. The claimant was in a worse position as a result of Cliffords' negligence and it would be wrong to allow Cliffords to avoid payment of damages when the claimant was entitled to the money from Goodwins, whether Cliffords had been negligent or not. The Court of Appeal, therefore, upheld the decision of the court at first instance.

However, it could not be said for certain that Mr Wardle would have accepted an increased offer of settlement and so a 20% discount on damages was made.

Comment: Where a claimant sues different defendants for heads of damages that are related, the court will not allow double recovery. Nicola Sparkes, BLM London.

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