A common concern for many claimants and their lawyers in litigation is whether the defendants have effective insurance cover and can thus satisfy any judgment obtained them. When a claimant discovers that he only has a “paper” judgment, he often looks to blame his solicitor. This is what happened in the recent case of Dowling v Bennett Griffin (a firm) [2013] EWHC 1995 (Ch) in which Mr Dowling (“D”) failed to establish negligence by Bennett Griffin (“the Solicitors”) in the original litigation. As part of the earlier litigation, D had brought a counterclaim against P, who was later substituted for P’s limited company, APAL. The service of D’s counterclaim unfortunately led to the other parties’ insurance cover being avoided and the subsequent judgment in favour of D being of little value.  

One argument that the judge, Kevin Prosser QC, considered in some detail was whether the solicitors ought to have obtained disclosure of the other parties’ insurance cover during the course of the proceedings. D criticised Bennett Griffin (“the Solicitors”) for failing to insist on disclosure of the insurance as a condition of APAL’s substitution for P as defendants to the counterclaim. The Judge rejected this argument because he considered that the court had no jurisdiction under the CPR or Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 1930 to make this order. He noted that his conclusion was consistent with West London Pipeline & Storage Ltd v Total UL Ltd [2008] UKHC 1296) and previous authorities such as Bekhor v Bilton [1981] QB 923 and Cox v Bankside Members’ Agency [1995] CLY 4122.

This case provides a timely reminder of the principle that insurance details are unlikely to be discoverable so long as the insured remains solvent.