Time is of the essence in civil claims

WHEN on the receiving end of a civil claim in England or Wales, members need to be aware that strict time limits apply and therefore MDDUS should be contacted at the earliest opportunity.

The first step usually taken by a claimant commencing a civil claim in England or Wales is to serve a letter of claim in accordance with the pre-action protocol for the resolution of clinical disputes. Upon receipt of a letter of claim, defendants have four months to investigate the case and serve a comprehensive letter of response denying or admitting liability. The MDDUS should be contacted as soon as a letter of claim is received, as any delay in notification of the claim reduces the time available for investigation and preparation of a response. Failure to comply with the provisions of the pre-action protocol can also result in the court imposing sanctions.

Prompt notification of claims is even more vital in situations where the claimant does not follow the pre-action protocol and instead opts to immediately serve formal court proceedings. Upon receipt of a claim form and particulars of claim, a defendant has just 14 days to file an acknowledgment of service at court, indicating whether the claim will be defended. This deadline is strictly enforced and a failure to comply with it entitles the claimant to enter judgment in default thereby potentially depriving the defendant of the opportunity to defend the claim.

All members in England and Wales should ensure that letters of claim and/or court proceedings are reported to MDDUS as a matter of priority, to avoid the serious adverse consequences outlined above. In the event that members have any doubt about the nature of documents received, they should contact the MDDUS telephone advice line for assistance.

▪ Alexandra Godby is a solicitor at MDDUS

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