A personal injury claimant who mistakenly settled for one-tenth of the amount they intended has been told by a court they must accept the outcome of the error.
The ruling in Mahoney v Royal Mail at Truro County Court held that the common law doctrine of mistake does not apply to so-called ‘Portal claims’.
Since 2013, low-value personal injury claims in road traffic accidents, where liability is admitted, have been dealt with via the Claims Portal. The scheme allows claimants and defendants to exchange settlement offers and reach an agreement without recourse to the courts. When one party accepts another’s offer, a binding settlement agreement is formed and the claim is compromised.
In Mahoney, an erroneous settlement figure was offered by the claimant’s solicitors through the portal, and was quickly accepted by the defendants. The claimant sought to effectively restart the claim.
Errors made in the portal cannot be rectified
The claim arose out of a road traffic accident in 2016. The claim was submitted via the Portal. Liability was admitted and the parties started to exchange offers through the personal injury Claims Portal.
The claimant initially offered £5,750 and the defendant responded with £4,000. The claimant’s representatives then submitted a counter-offer of £550 instead of £5,550, which the defendant promptly accepted and paid via BACS.
The claimant’s solicitors quickly realised their mistake and contacted the defendant’s solicitors to attempt to withdraw the offer and return the money, including by sending a cheque for the same sum which the defendant refused to accept.
The defendant maintained that the matter had been compromised when it accepted the claimant’s offer via the portal.
Two issues were highlighted. First, it did not matter the defendant knew the claimant had made a mistake, and secondly that the magnitude of the mistake was ‘neither here nor there’.
The judge said that while the position might lead to ‘rough justice’ on occasion, the overall benefits of the system far outweighed the negatives.
To apply the doctrine of mistake, the judge had ruled, would lead to disproportionate satellite litigation and the cost of rectifying the error would likely exceed the cost of the mistake.
The decision serves as a warning to claimants and defendants to take care when submitting offers via the portal since mistakes cannot be rectified, although the ceision may be subject to appeal proceedings.