State Claims Agency paid €43 million for legal fees in medical negligence cases last year

Finance minister Michael Noonan

The State Claims Agency (SCA) paid out 30 million euro in 2014 to settle plaintiffs’ legal bills — a 25 per cent increase on the €24 million paid to plaintiffs’ firms in 2013.

The figure emerged on Friday in a written Dáil reply from finance minister Michael Noonan to Michael McGrath TD.

Wicklow firm Augustus Cullen topped the league, receiving €6.98 million in fees.

Other solicitor firms that received in excess of €2 million from the agency in 2014 were Callan Tansey (€2.74 million) and Ernest Cantillon & Co (€2.3 million). MM Halley & Son received €1.12 million.

The amount paid to legal firms representing the agency increased from €12.2 million to €13.2 million, with Hayes Solicitors receiving €2.57 million and Mason Hayes & Curran Solicitors receiving €2.54 million. Three other firms each received in excess of €1 million – Doyle & Co,Arthur Cox and Comyn Kelleher Tobin.

Michael Boylan, managing partner at Augustus Cullen, told the Irish Times that the €6.98 million it received included barristers’ fees, medical expert fees along with other expert fees and 23 per cent VAT.

Mr Boylan, who is also head of medical negligence at the firm, stressed: “This is not a story of avaricious lawyers. If the SCA adopted different tactics and didn’t contest liability until the bitter end, just before the case is to go to court, it would halve the legal fees paid out.

“The SCA’s tactics of contesting cases all the way is why the costs are so high.”

But a spokesman for the agency told the newspaper: “Any claim that the actions of the SCA in managing clinical claims resulted in higher legal costs is clearly untrue and a misrepresentation of the factual position.”

He added: “The SCA resolves 97 per cent of claims without the need for contested court action. We encourage the use of mediation wherever possible because this is a less adversarial and lower-cost way to resolve claims, but some solicitors remain implacably opposed to mediation.”

The spokesman said the average per-case cost of plaintiffs’ legal fees for clinical claims resolved last year fell 33 per cent compared to 2013 and added that the average per-case cost of SCA legal fees for claims settled in 2014 fell by 32 per cent compared to 2013.

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