Home » What is professional negligence, and whom can I claim against?

What is professional negligence, and whom can I claim against?

Professional negligence might arise when a professional acting on your behalf makes an error, resulting in you incurring financial loss.

The kind of professional you can lodge a claim against is someone you’ve remunerated to deliver an expert service, such as a solicitor, barrister, surveyor, architect, accountant, financial adviser, or tax consultant. This is due to the professional’s obligation to serve you with the diligence and expertise expected from a reasonably proficient professional within that specific field.

Myerson Solicitor’s Dispute Resolution team delves into the restrictions on professional negligence claims and compensation via the Legal Ombudsman.

Limitations to professional negligence claims

You can’t lodge a professional negligence claim against public organisations like the NHS, local councils, or Government departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department for Health and Social Care. 

While these entities might owe you a duty of care under another legal domain, they wouldn’t meet the legal criteria for negligence.

Professional negligence claims can’t be filed against trade unions, although these unions might direct you to a professional, like a solicitor or legal representative. You could potentially claim against them if they’ve been negligent.

Is poor service different from negligence?

There might be instances where you’ve received subpar service from a professional, meaning they haven’t managed your case as they should’ve. For instance, you might’ve needed to prompt them for updates, or they may have been slow or failed to return your calls and emails.

While this can be particularly exasperating, subpar service isn’t equivalent to negligence. A professional negligence solicitor wouldn’t be able to aid you in claiming for poor service. However, under these circumstances, you could potentially claim compensation via the Legal Ombudsman.

Complaints about subpar service

If you’ve endured inadequate service from a professional, there are measures you can employ without resorting to a solicitor:

1. Initially, review any engagement letter given by the professional. It’ll likely outline the firm’s internal complaints process, which you should adhere to if you wish to raise concerns about the service received. Your initial step should be to converse with the individual overseeing your matter, their superior, or department lead. The engagement letter should also mention the firm’s Complaints Manager or Partner responsible for your grievance if it isn’t initially resolved;

2. If an engagement letter wasn’t provided, or the aforementioned details weren’t included, the firm’s website might have the Complaints Manager or Partner’s contact details. Alternatively, request these details from your point of contact at the firm or, if necessary, direct your complaint to the firm’s directors or partners;

3. Typically, a firm will allocate up to 8 weeks to address a formal written complaint;

4. If, post this period, the firm hasn’t responded or their reply isn’t satisfactory, you can typically escalate your grievance to an Ombudsman (either the Financial Ombudsman or the Legal Ombudsman if it’s concerning a law firm). An Ombudsman is an independent entity, and their services are free of charge;

5. Ensure you’ve adhered to the firm’s complaint procedure and waited the stipulated response time before approaching the Ombudsman. If the firm replies to your grievance, they should guide you on how to further your complaint with the Ombudsman.

Time constraints for contacting the Ombudsman

You must be aware that there’s a limited timeframe to approach the Ombudsman. If you wish to complain to the Legal Ombudsman about a solicitor or barrister, your grievance must be filed within:

  • 1 year from the incident’s date;
  • 1 year from discovering the issue; or
  • 6 months from the firm’s final response.

If you’re considering lodging a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman, it typically needs to be within six years of the incident. If this period has elapsed, the Financial Ombudsman might still consider your grievance if lodged within three years from realising the problem (or when you should’ve reasonably become aware).

In any case, it’s imperative not to procrastinate when contacting the Ombudsman.

Compensation via the Legal Ombudsman

The Legal Ombudsman has the authority to command a legal professional to reimburse you up to £50,000. The amount the Financial Ombudsman can grant varies based on the timing of the issue and the complaint. Compensation granted by the Ombudsman could be a fee refund you’ve dispensed to the professional or a compensatory sum for the subpar service experienced.

Upon receiving the Ombudsman’s final decision, if you opt to accept it, this will generally be binding, obstructing you from initiating a legal claim against the professional. Before accepting the Ombudsman’s final verdict, if you’re also pondering a professional negligence claim against the professional, it’s advisable to consult a solicitor.