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Withdrawing admissions – increase in value?

Suppose a defendant is faced with a low-value claim and decides to admit liability; later, it turns out that there is a significant increase in the value of the claim. At that stage, can the defendant withdraw the earlier admission?

This is what happened in a recent case involving injuries sustained due to a defective wheelchair. Initially, the claimant indicated it was a fast-track claim (ie limited to £25,000), and accordingly, the defendant admitted liability. Later, the claim increased in value and, when proceedings were commenced, a claim of over £300,000 was pleaded. In response, the defendant applied to withdraw its admission. In the High Court, that application was refused (on the basis that the defendant’s insurers had taken a ‘commercial decision’ on the basis of a ‘calculated risk that the value of the claim might increase’). But, the CA disagreed and allowed the admission to be withdrawn. In its view, a change in the value of a claim was ‘new evidence’ (‘it seems to me indisputable that highly material new evidence has come to light. This was in the form of further evidence as to the extent of the injury allegedly caused and, in consequence, quantum’). Moreover, from a public policy point of view, it was desirable for parties to settle fast-track claims speedily, and that would be discouraged if they were not able to withdraw admissions if there was a ‘substantial increase’ in value. In any event, the idea that the insurers had taken a ‘calculated risk’ was dismissed.

If there is a significant increase in the value of the claim then an earlier admission is likely to be withdrawable. See commentary on Wood v Days Healthcare [2017] EWCA Civ 2097 in [2018] 163 Personal Injury Law Journal 12.

 

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