Deadlines are not guidelines

Posted: 27th December 2016

TimeThe courts give top priority to the efficient and cost effective conduct of litigation and failure to comply with case management directions can have dire consequences. In one case that underlined the point, a company’s £350,000 professional negligence claim against insurance brokers was effectively stymied.

Clearway Drainage Systems engaged brokers Miles Smith to arrange insurance of its commercial vehicle fleet. It claimed that the brokers had negligently failed to draw its attention to a clause in its policy which required that all drivers of vehicles weighing over 7.5 tonnes had to have at least two years' relevant driving experience.

After one of the Clearway’s heavy vehicles was written off in an accident, insurers declined cover on the basis that its driver lacked the required experience. In the circumstances, Clearway launched proceedings against the brokers and argued that it had a strong case that they had breached their duty of care.

In giving pre-trial directions, a judge required the claimant to serve certain witness evidence and a witness summary by a particular date. That deadline was missed by about two months. The judge’s stern response was to rule out admission of the evidence at trial.

That decision effectively put an end to the company’s case. The facts of the case emerged as the Court of Appeal dismissed Clearway’s challenge to the judge’s "conscientious and impeccable ruling".