Harcourt v Griffin [2007] 1500 (QB)

This was a personal injury case, but one which may also have implications for professional firms.

The claimant had succeeded on liability and was expected to receive a large award in damages. The claimant did not want to risk incurring significant costs in a dispute on quantum, in circumstances where it was not clear whether the defendant’s insurance cover (together with any other available assets), would be sufficient to meet the likely award.

Unusually, the court granted disclosure of the nature and extent of the defendant’s insurance cover under CPR Part 18 which enables the court to order a party to: “(a) clarify any matter which is in dispute in the proceedings; or (b) give additional information in relation to any such matter...”. Although the nature and extent of the defendant’s insurance cover was not itself a “matter … in dispute in the proceedings”, in the sense that the proper quantum of damages payable to the claimant could be determined without reference to that insurance, the court held that the wording of CPR Part 18 should be interpreted reasonably liberally and disclosure was ordered.

The judge expressed the view that it would be highly regrettable if applications for this type of information became standard tactics in any litigation. Disclosure of this kind should only be ordered where the claimant (or other party) can demonstrate that there is some real basis for concern that a realistic award in the case may not be satisfied. The judge was certain that “… the exercise of any jurisdiction to order disclosure of information such as this will be approached with caution.”

The decision has provoked concern that it may be applied more widely than personal injury cases and that requests for disclosure of insurance details may become standard practice in any insurance backed litigation. Whilst this seems unlikely, particularly because of the court’s emphasis that this should not become standard practice, no doubt in appropriate cases claimants will seek disclosure if there is any reason to believe that the insurance cover available (and any other resources) may be inadequate to meet the expected award, especially where the sums in question are high.