Philip Day, millionaire owner of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, has lost a negligence claim against his law firm, Womble Bond Dickinson.  Day accused the law firm of professional negligence after he was found guilty of unlawfully felling 43 trees on his estate in Cumbria.

In 2013 Philip Day was fined £450,000 and ordered to pay costs of £457,000 after he felled the trees in Gelt Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and built a track to provide access for shooting.  The penalty was the largest ever environmental fine imposed on an individual.  In 2014 Day lost an appeal against his criminal conviction.

Mr Day then turned his attention to Womble Bond Dickinson in an attempt to recover his losses from the firm. He argued that he was only convicted due to the firm’s negligence, claiming it was ‘more likely than not’ that he would have been acquitted if properly defended.

He accused the firm of failing to advise him to plead his case in the magistrates court, where the fine would be lower, failing to argue the prosecution was an abuse of process and failing to develop a proper case strategy.

In the High Court, Her Honour Judge Deborah Taylor, threw out the negligence claim on the grounds of illegality.  Judge Taylor said that it is a rule of law that the civil court will not compensate a claimant for punishment for a criminal act for which he or she was responsible.

Day appealed, but again lost. In stern judgement Lord Justice McCombe wrote that the claim was ‘inappropriate, wasteful of resources, and likely to bring the law into disrepute’.  However, the Court of Appeal ‘reluctantly’ allowed Day’s appeal that his costs were higher than might have been the case had he not elected for a Crown Court trial.

While it is always prudent and very often more cost effective for law firms to try to settle disputes with clients through mediation, this case demonstrates the value of vigorously defending a negligence claim in the courts where necessary,” said James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions. 

Reports about the negligence case have been published by the Law Society Gazette, Courtroom Mail and Juriosity.  The original criminal conviction was reported by the BBC.

Brunel Professions is a leading provider of PII insurance broking to the legal profession. To find out more call Mark Sommariva on 0203 475 3275.