UK: Over 16,000 Claims Defeated Following Clyde & Co Success In Sonae Industria Group Action
Last Updated: 5 August 2015

Clyde & Co has successfully defended the damages claims of 16,626 claimants alleging personal injuries and other losses from smoke exposure following a fire in June 2011 at the premises of Sonae Industria (UK) Limited in Kirkby, Merseyside. In a Judgment published today, Mr Justice Jay rejected the claims of local residents and found that levels of smoke exposure were not sufficient to endanger health.

The Judgment followed a four-week trial in Liverpool in June 2015 in which the Court considered extensive scientific and medical evidence and 20 representative Test Claims.

The damages and costs if the Claimants were successful had been estimated by their lawyers to be in the order of £100m.

Clyde & Co represented Sonae Industria on the instructions of their insurers, AIG Europe Limited. Mr Justice Jay found in favour of Sonae Industria on all issues. The Judge described 'serious weaknesses in the Claimants' overall case, and said: "Human beings are naturally susceptible and suggestible, particularly if they are made to believe that they form part of a coherent group with shared experiences, and if they risk none of their own resources in bringing a claim...Many of the questionnaires examined in the context of the Test Claimants were shown to be inaccurate and exaggerated, calling into question the objectivity and integrity of the whole process."

Documents submitted in support of two of the 20 Test Cases were found by Mr Justice Jay to "bear forged signatures". The two firms of solicitors acting for those Claimants, GT Law and Walter Barr Solicitors, are to be reported by the Judge to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in connection with this. In another Test Case the Judge found that the claim was brought fraudulently.

The Judge said that some clients had been signed up to claim on the basis of misleading information, which had the "obvious tendency to encourage the bringing of claims, on the basis that the Defendant was a soft target and this was easy money". He said that: "whole families have been signed up, apparently willy-nilly, to the group". The Judge strongly deprecated the practices: "not merely does it sail close to the wind in terms of its professional propriety, it is severely counter-productive as and when the case comes to trial".

The team at Clyde & Co were led by Manchester partner, Hugh Mullins who instructed Michael Kent QC of Crown Office Chambers and Michael Jones of Cobden House Chambers.

Hugh comments that: "After three years of hard work on such a complex matter, we are delighted to deliver such a positive result to our clients. With our experience of group litigation, we put together a team of the highest calibre. The challenge was to present to the court a scientific analysis as to what occurred and the potential consequences to counter the somewhat anecdotal and elaborate evidence of exposure given by the claimants. This is a hugely significant Judgment for the insurance industry."

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