This case highlights the law surrounding pre-action admissions; the defendant was not bound by an admission made at the early stages of litigation where the claim significantly increased in value.
In the case of Woods -v- Days Healthcare UK Limited & Ors, the claimant, a paraplegic, had an accident involving her wheelchair. During the pre-action phase, the claim had been valued between £10,000 and £25,000; a fast-track claim. The defendant admitted liability on a commercial basis.
The claimant obtained expert evidence from a consultant orthopaedic surgeon; it became apparent that the sustained injuries were more complex. Proceedings were served and the value of the pleaded claim increased to above £300,000. The defendant reviewed its admission and considered that it had a defence. Pursuant to CPR Pt 14. 1A, the defendant sought to resile from the admission, permitted by the Court of Appeal.
CPR Pt. 14 1A and PD 14 (7.2) governs withdrawal of pre-action admissions. Factors to be considered include:
- new evidence
- the conduct of the parties
- prejudice if the admission is withdrawn or refused
- the stage of proceedings
- the prospects of success
- the administration of justice
The application had been refused by Laing J at first instance. Laing J held that there had been no new evidence about the circumstances of the case. Increase in value, in her view, was not a good reason to allow the defendant to withdraw an admission. Summary judgement was granted against the body who assembled the wheelchair; Laing J held that this was not relevant to the defendant’s application.
The defendant appealed the decision, which was agreed by the Court of Appeal. Lord Justice Davis reviewed the relevant CPR and PD globally, to consider whether it was just and fair to allow the withdrawal. He held that a significant change in the value of the claim constituted new evidence; the extent of the injury and quantum materialised since the admission. Summary judgment had been granted against another party. Davis LJ concluded that the claimant would not suffer prejudice as a result of the withdrawal.
Davis LJ adopted a commercially astute approach; a ten-fold increase in the value of a claim, in his view, constituted new evidence and should entitle a defendant to re-examine its admission.