Split trials: an increasingly attractive strategy

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Split trials: an increasingly attractive strategy

Published 16 June 2022

Those with long memories will recall the days when split liability and quantum trials were a regular occurrence with issues of quantum often set to one side while liability was determined.  Post Civil Procedure Rules the appetite of the courts for split trials has waned and they have become rare.  This is primarily due to the view that there would, at trial, be much overlap between the evidence required to determine issues of both liability and quantum.  So to deal with the two separately would risk the parties incurring unnecessary costs. 

However, we are beginning to see an increased willingness on the part of the courts to order split trials, perhaps in part due to the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic and the obvious desire to resolve more cases quickly.  The first part of a split trial will always require a shorter estimated length of hearing than a full trial and this can help to bring forward hearing dates and potentially reduce the overall time the case takes to resolve.

In three recent cases, two of which have now concluded, DAC Beachcroft have successfully sought orders for split trials with, in the two that have been heard, excellent outcomes for our clients.

In the first of these cases, the Claimant was employed by the Defendant to work on a building site.  He alleged that while using a wheelbarrow, fencing left in an alley had caused the wheelbarrow to tip resulting in him losing his footing and breaking his ankle.  While it was not disputed that the Claimant had fractured his ankle on site, liability remained in dispute.

The claim was originally allocated to the Fast-track and quantified at a little over £35,000.  However, the way in which the matter was advanced indicated that a significant increase was to be expected, not least that a re-allocation to the Multi-track would be requested.  Accordingly a split trial was sought which would see the matter remaining in the Fast Track and liability determined without further medical fees and costs being incurred, a proposal to which the court agreed.

At the liability trial, both the Claimant and his witnesses accounts changed when giving evidence on more than one occasion.  Having carefully assessed the evidence, the trial judge found that the Claimant was not credible and the inconsistencies amounted to fundamental dishonesty and therefore found for the Defendant, dismissing the claim and awarding them their costs in the sum of £22,500.

The second case concerned an incident in which the Claimant alleged that the Defendant’s dog had run into her.  This had caused her to fall and hit her head on the ground.  We felt that this would be an appropriate case in which a split trial should be sought.  It was anticipated that if liability was addressed at an early stage then it may be possible to make significant savings in terms of obtaining medical evidence on behalf of the defendant, a significant reduction in hearing days and removing the need for expert attendance at a full trial.  The application for a split trial was granted and the factual evidence was heard in the morning.  The claim, quantified at around £50,000, but potentially worth more, was rejected by the judge who ruled that the Claimant had not proved her claim.  The costs savings in having the claim dismissed at an early stage was significant, avoiding both the Claimant and Defendant obtaining expert evidence which would have increased costs significantly. 

Our third case is one where medical evidence will not be completed for at least a year, with CRU benefits continuing to increase.  Because of the dispute in relation to liability, at a recent Case Management Conference, we have been successful in obtaining an order for a split trial.  The issue of liability will therefore not have to wait for quantum to catch up and the potential for cost savings is clear.

Not every case will be suitable for a split trial and the court is likely to look very carefully at the benefits that are being asserted as flowing from such an order.  By picking the right cases and presenting compelling arguments to the Court, our Casualty Injury experts continue to help our clients by reducing their costs exposure and bringing cases to an earlier resolution.

For more information or advice, please contact one of our experts in our Casualty Injury Team.

Authors

Cassandra Mitchell

Cassandra Mitchell

Bristol

+44 (0)117 918 2108

William Swift

William Swift

Manchester

+44 (0) 161 934 3109

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