Wannabe solicitor loses £800k claim for missing out on training contract because of car crash

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By Judge John Hack on

Judge doesn’t buy line that law firm’s alleged negligence caused loss of professional opportunity — but praises litigant-in-person’s legal skills


A litigant-in-person has lost her bid to blame a car crash for failing to bag a training contract.

Susan Berney has had a terrible time of it, with her crash — in which she suffered “moderately severe whiplash” — being followed by more bad luck in the form of allegedly negligent legal representation in her resultant attempt to secure compensation. This, she argued, left her with only a tiny fraction of the damages she deserved.

Manchester-based Thomas Saul & Co issued the accident claim on behalf of Berney back in 2005, but, according to Legal Futures, the firm allegedly failed to file the particulars “in time or at all”. Berney still got a payout of £25,000, but she reckoned that without the mistake she would have got much more — and wanted £800,000 in damages for, amongst other things, the lost opportunity of becoming a hot shot solicitor.

Berney set about achieving this by issuing a claim against Thomas Saul & Co in 2011 that saw her argue successfully before the Court of Appeal that she wasn’t bound by a limitation issue.

But, in the latest instalment of the case, reported by Lawtel, High Court Judge Karen Walden-Smith threw the claim out, while praising the wannabe lawyer’s preparation and advocacy. The judge was sympathetic, but not to the tune of 800,000 nicker.

“Her qualities as a lawyer were demonstrated before me, and before the Court of Appeal in the earlier appeal against the strike-out,” the judge ruled, according to the website, continuing:

However, that does not mean that it is the RTA [road traffic accident] that has caused her not to become a solicitor and I find no connection between the RTA and her inability to find employment as a solicitor.

Judge Walden-Smith continued:

If I am wrong about that and she would have otherwise have obtained a contract, such a contract would not have been with a City firm (Ms Berney accepted that was an unrealistic goal) and it would have been in a small firm, undertaking publicly-funded work.

The judge added that it was “most significant” that Ms Berney had applied unsuccessfully for training contracts before the accident. And, far from 800 grand, she reckoned that Berney was more likely to bag damages of between £10,000 and £25,000.

Still, she praised Berney for the “calm and logical manner in which she presented her case”. So maybe that legal dream isn’t over yet.