Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service v Veevers [2020] EWHC 2550 (Comm) (25 September 2020)

R sought damages pursuant to the Law Reform Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1934 and the Fatal Accident Act 1976 flowing from the death of her son. [1]

A admitted liability and compensated the R for her losses. It also agreed to pay her reasonable costs. Those costs were referred for assessment. [3]

an issue arose as to whether R was entitled to recover the costs of preparing for and attending the inquest into son’s death. [4]

…the Regional Costs Judge… held that the costs are in principle recoverable, subject to the detailed assessment of those costs. The Appellant appeals that decision [5]

the central issue in this case, that is the recoverability of inquest costs where the prospective defendant has indicated a willingness to settle any claim but has not admitted liability. [54]

the law in respect of the recovery of the costs in a civil claim for the preparation for and attendance at an inquest, in so far as those costs relate to the establishing of liability in a subsequent civil claim, can be summarised as follows:

(a) Inquest costs may be recoverable in so far as reasonable and proportionate, so long as they can properly be said to be incidental to the civil claim;

(b) Such costs will not be recoverable if liability is no longer in issue between the parties, since the costs are simply not incidental to something in issue in the civil claim;

(c) In determining whether liability is in issue, the court must look at all the circumstances of the case, but the central issue is likely to be whether the prospective defendant has admitted liability or otherwise indicated a willingness to satisfy the claim;

(d) Liability will not be in issue if it has been admitted since such an admission is binding unless the court subsequently permits it to be withdrawn pursuant to CPR 14.1A.

(e) However, the Costs Judge is entitled to look with care at anything less than an unqualified admission to see whether the prospective defendant’s position is one from which it may resile or which leaves matter in issue between the parties.

(f) In particular, if the defendant’s position is not one of unqualified admission in circumstances where such an admission could have been made, the Costs Judge may be entitled to find that the failure to make an unqualified admission justified the conclusion that the defendant might exercise its right to resile from the admission and that therefore the costs of the inquest could properly be said to be incidental to the civil claim.

(g) If the costs can be justified upon these principles, the mere fact that there are other reasons why the family of the deceased should wish to be represented at an inquest, most obviously to avoid the inequality of arms between unrepresented family members and a represented public body does not mean that the costs are not recoverable. It is enough that the attendance to secure relevant evidence in relation to matters in issues was a material purpose for the attendance. [54]

…costs of preparing for and attending the inquest are costs “of and incidental” to the instant claim and are in principle reasonable and proportionate is a conclusion that he was entitled to reach, and the appeal is dismissed. [68]