In a recent decision, a county court refused to allow a claimant to rectify an error that resulted in a claim being settled for one tenth of the expected figure.
The question arose in the case of Mahoney v Royal Mail, a personal injury claim that went through the MOJ portal process for low value motor vehicle accidents. Claimant had obtained their evidence and submitted a Stage 2 settlement package. Claimant made an initial offer of £5,750 for pain, suffering and loss of amenity (PSLA), defendant responded with a counter offer of £4,000. The claimant then attempted to bid £5,550 but missed a five of the bid.
Unsurprisingly, the defendant quickly accepted the offer and made the appropriate payment to the plaintiff.
The plaintiff’s attorneys attempted to return payment to the defendant and sought to withdraw their offer. The defendant argued that the offer had been accepted and therefore PSLA’s claim was in jeopardy for the sum of £550.
The plaintiff commenced proceedings under Part 7 and the defendant filed an application to strike out the claim. The request to strike the claim was made on the basis that the claim had already been settled and that the proceeding constituted an abuse of process.
The court decided that the offer and acceptance would stand. The judge indicated that the doctrine of error could not assist the plaintiff as it does not apply to MOJ portal processes as they have their own standalone code. It was decided that common law principles would generally not apply to portal processes, as they are self-contained – like Part 36 of the CPR.
This decision follows previous cases where errors in the portal could not be corrected using the doctrine of error. The judges in those cases held that allowing the error to apply to the portal would lead to satellite litigation and undermine the certainty, speed and cost that the portal’s processes are meant to provide parties.
Apart from the process, it is agreed that the doctrine of error would have assisted the plaintiff.
This case is a stark reminder that parties must be careful when bidding through Portal processes. A simple slip can cause a serious problem for either party.
It also means that a party who receives the type of offer made in this case, can accept it and make payment safely knowing that the other party cannot rely on an error to help them.