We may have said it before but sometimes we in the INNSA offices wonder whether we would have been better focusing on a career in the legal profession.
Such thoughts have arisen a number of times over the past couple of months as we have watched several judgements come in from the civil courts and the Court of Appeal for cases involving Japanese knotweed. The cases have variously resulted in: significant financial damages awarded for misrepresentation … relatively inconsequential damages for loss of property value … and a case where damages were not awarded as the case was found in favour of the defendant.
But reading through the coverage of these cases, there is one recurring theme – that whoever has lost the case has been on the hook for six figure legal bills – £100,000 for the case brought and lost by a neighbour, a total legal bill estimated at £195,000 for a misrepresentation case where damages of £32,000 were awarded and an estimated £300,000 in costs for Bridgenorth Council, in a case where damages of just £4,900 were awarded to the plaintiff.
In every one of these three cases, the legal bills exceeded the amounts claimed; in the case against Bridgenorth Council, the legal bill is sixty times that of the damages awarded – and the figure for damages may have been more than sufficient for the council to have remediated or suitably managed the problem at some point during the fifty or so years which the plant has (reportedly) probably been the land.
As we say, it looks like the only clear winners in these cases are the solicitors and (unless cases are fought on a “no win, no fee” basis), people who bring cases to the civil courts are risking significant jeopardy when bringing cases.
A solicitor involved with one recent case has predicted sums of up to £10m could be paid out to homeowners and land owners bringing hundreds claims for loss of value or nuisance from Japanese knotweed encroachment and for misrepresentation by property vendors.
One assumes that this does not stretch to six figure legal fees for each case…
For the most part, the parties being claimed against for nuisance are Network Rail (as in the Williams and Waistell vs Network Rail case) and local authorities, as in the second case linked above.
INNSA would wait for the final verdict of any further appeals in the Bridgend case before expecting the flood gates to open but it seems that more claims and more court cases dealing with Japanese knotweed has been the direction of travel in the UK for the last ten years, particularly including high-value properties in London. Claims and court cases involving Japanese knotweed are not likely to be a thing of the past any time soon
In any case, the first thing we will advise our clients when we qualify as solicitors is to never answer “no” to the Japanese knotweed question on the TA6 form Seller Beware – INNSA