Disproportionate legal costs make case for reform, says DDU

Legal costs in some lower value dental negligence claims exceed compensation paid to patients.

Leading not-for-profit indemnifier the Dental Defence Union (DDU) revealed today that legal costs in some lower value dental negligence claims can be double the amount of compensation paid to patients.

Figures in the MDU's newly published annual report for 2021, the DDU's parent company, reveal that the average sum paid in claimants' legal costs on dental claims settled for between £10,000 and £25,000, was over £22,500. For claims settled up to £10,000 the average was £13,000.

The DDU called on the government to proceed quickly with the reforms needed to the clinical negligence system to make disproportionate legal costs a thing of the past.

Dr Matthew Lee, MDU chief executive, said:

"Disproportionate legal costs are one of several defects in the current litigation system and particularly affect lower value claims. It cannot be right for legal costs paid to claimants' lawyers to regularly exceed the damages paid to claimants.

"The government recently closed a consultation on introducing fixed, proportionate, legal costs for cases valued up to £25,000. While we believe that the scheme should apply to claims up to £250,000 to have a real impact, the government has promised a more ambitious consultation this year on wider reforms. This cannot come soon enough when you consider the NHS is also facing such disproportionate costs, which put a strain on public finances."

John Makin, head of the DDU, said:

"We often hear it said that legal costs could be avoided if offers of compensation were made early and fault admitted. At the DDU, we will never settle a claim involving a member for the sake of financial expediency. We successfully defend the majority of claims we receive and understand to need to protect members' reputations. During 2021, we closed 63% of dental claims without a payment of damages.

"But the fact remains that the current system is time consuming and stressful for dental professionals and claimants alike.

"The government must take ambitious action to reform the system to make the cost of clinical negligence proportionate and affordable, balancing the needs of society, the NHS and taxpayers."

Our Fair Compensation campaign has more details about the changes we want to see.

Further results highlighted in the MDU's annual report for 2021 include:

  • of cases that went to trial, we defended eight claims, with a 75% success rate
  • under 10% of GDC cases at the case examiner stage were referred to a hearing following representations by DDU solicitors
  • of cases that went to a GDC Practice Committee, 50% were concluded with no finding of impairment, compared to the GDC's latest figure of 26% (for 2020)
  • 23,000 member calls to our dento-legal and medico-legal advice lines were answered by our expert dentists and doctors, with 99% of calls answered within 20 seconds.

This page was correct at publication on 04/08/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.