In the recent case of Wood v Days Health UK Ltd and others  the High Court refused to allow the Defendant to withdraw its pre-action admission of liability in a personal injury Claim. The decision highlights the importance of ensuring that a thorough investigation is undertaken before admissions are made.
The Claimant was paraplegic and relied on a motorised wheelchair. The Claimant asserted that in October 2009 her chair malfunctioned causing her to be propelled forward and suffer significant injury. The Claimant brought a Claim against a number of defendants, including D1, the chair manufacturers.
Prior to issue of proceedings, D1 admitted liability through its loss adjustors. However, D1 subsequently realised that another Defendant had fitted new components on the chair. D1 therefore sought to withdraw its admission claiming that the chair was no longer the same chair that it had supplied.
The Court refused to allow D1 permission to withdraw its admission. The Court considered the following in reaching its decision:
- it appeared that the real ground for D1's application to withdraw its admission was that the Claim had increased in value since D1 had admitted liability. However, the Court considered that this was a risk inherent in any personal injury claim, which did not justify D1 withdrawing its admission.
- D1 had made the admission after having inspected the chair. If D1 had taken reasonable steps to investigate, it would have discovered that modifications had been made after the chair had been supplied to the Claimant.
- D1 had delayed considerably before indicating its intention to withdraw from its admission and both the Claimant and D2 would be prejudiced by its withdrawal.
- D1 still had a reasonable prospect of defending the Claim and in any event, could bring a contribution claim against its co-defendants.
- The fact that summary judgment had been obtained against another defendant was not a reason to allow withdrawal of the admission.
The Court held that if D1 had conducted reasonable investigations in the first place, it would not have made any admissions.
This case demonstrates the importance of thorough investigation of a Claim and careful consideration of the appropriate response by defendants before any admissions are made. If it becomes apparent during the course of pre-action investigations that the picture is incomplete, or that evidence may be missing, the importance of a carefully considered response cannot be overstated. Although it remains possible to defend a Claim where admissions have previously been made, any subsequent defence is likely to lose credibility.