Civil Litigation + Dispute Resolution

How do I attempt to settle my civil dispute whilst protecting myself from the other side using what I say against me?

You have the right to remain silent … in your civil legal dispute

By the time you approach a lawyer to assist with your civil legal dispute you may have already discussed the matter in detail or sent text messages/emails to the other party, their agent, insurance company or lawyers.

Whilst you might think you are progressing the matter:

➲ This is generally a mistake!

Most people [unless they are experienced in litigation or legal dispute resolution] will unknowingly proceed to make these communications with the other side on an "open” basis.

This means that everything that is said or written might be capable of being used by the other parties in any subsequent legal proceedings.

We recommend you don't say or write anything until you have spoken to your lawyer

It is generally known that in any criminal matter, you have the “right to remain silent …” as this is well-covered territory on TV/Movie Legal Dramas and in the media.

When it comes to civil disputes we recommend you adopt the same position.

Our advice may be spot on when it comes to large $$ civil disputes.

Proceeding without your lawyer

When the matter is only a minor one, you may not want to go to the time and/or expense of engaging legal advice specific to your situation.

Q: How then can you proceed?

A: Very carefully, and with the assistance of some very specific legal phraseology which you may or may not have seen before.

Please refer to our blog article “How to cast a magic legal spell? The protection afforded by Without Prejudice Settlement Negotiations." for more information.

What are the downsides to delaying 1️⃣ Informing the other side of my claim against them; or 2️⃣ Filing my claim with the Court?

Generally speaking, to help ensure you obtain the best possible outcome, it is recommended that as soon as practical you:

1️⃣ Proceed to obtain legal advice;

2️⃣ Instruct your lawyer to inform the other side that you have a claim against them, and attempt to settle the matter; and if this is not successful

3️⃣ Proceed to take steps to enforce your legal rights without any further delay.

Apart from the risk of the lapse of any State of Limitations Period, if your claim seeks equitable relief, failure to provide notice to the defendant that you have a claim and intend to enforce it, may open the door to allow the defendant to seek reliance on the equitable defence of laches, or more generally estoppel with the circumstances of the case unfolding in support of these defences the longer the defendant is able to show inaction on your part.

What is the equitable defence of laches?

Laches is a defence only available to a defendant in equity, where a plaintiff's lack of diligence and activity in making a legal claim, or moving forward with legal enforcement of a right, is viewed as conduct which allows the defendant to develop a belief that the plaintiff will not be seeking to make any claim and to continue about their life dealing with their affairs in reliance on this belief. Wikipedia

In Streeter v Western Areas Exploration Pty Ltd (No 2) (2011) 278 ALR 291 at para. [635] per McLure P considered:

"Whether the conduct of the plaintiff amounted to an acquiescence or caused the defendant to alter their position in reliance on the plaintiff’s acceptance of their actions”.

Consequently, a defendant may be able to argue the equitable defence of laches on a much shorter time frame than the relevant statutory limitation period.

In Hourigan v Trustees Executors and Agency Co Ltd (1934) 51 CLR 619 per Rich J:

The Court will not “disregard the election of the party not to institute his claim and treat as unimportant the length of time during which he has slept upon his rights and induced the common assumption that he does not possess any”.

In Gillespie & Ors v Gillespie [2013] QCA 99 MARGARET WILSON J (with whom MARGARET McMURDO P & WHITE JA agreed) at para. [79] of her judgment provided a summary of the applicable law regarding the equitable defence of Laches:

"Laches is an equitable doctrine, under which delay can bar a claim to equitable relief."
Deane J (with whom Mason CJ agreed) observed in Orr v Ford that the ultimate test is that enunciated by the Privy Council in Lindsay Petroleum Co v Hurd
“… whether the plaintiff has, by his inaction and standing by, placed the defendant or a third party in a situation in which it would be inequitable and unreasonable ‘to place him if the remedy were afterwards to be asserted’: see Erlanger v New Sombrero Phosphate Co, and also, per Rich J, Hourigan.”
The learned authors of Meagher, Gummow and Lehane’s Equity Doctrines and Remedies posit that there are two types of laches –
(i)         delay with acquiescence, where prejudice to others need not be shown; and
(ii)        more commonly, delay with prejudice to others.
However, in Fisher v Brooker Lord Neuberger said –
“Although I would not suggest that it is an immutable requirement, some sort of detrimental reliance is usually an essential ingredient of laches, in my opinion. In Lindsay Petroleum Co v Hurd (1874) LR 5 PC 221, 239-240, Lord Selborne LC, giving the opinion of the Board, said that laches applied where ‘it would be practically unjust to give a remedy’, and that, in every case where a defence ‘is founded upon mere delay… the validity of that defence must be tried upon principles substantially equitable’.
He went on to state that what had to be considered were ‘the length of the delay and the nature of the acts done during the interval, which might affect either party, and cause a balance of justice or injustice in taking the one course or the other, so far as relates to the remedy’.”
Trying the validity of the defence on equitable principles involves the balancing of equities.  
In Erlanger v New Sombrero Phosphate Co Lord Blackburn said –
“…it must always be a question of more or less, depending on the degree of diligence which might reasonably be required, and the degree of change which has occurred, whether the balance of justice or injustice is in favour of granting the remedy or withholding it.
The determination of such a question must largely depend on the turn of mind of those who have to decide, and must therefore be subject to uncertainty; but that, I think, is inherent in the nature of the inquiry.”
And in Fysh v Page Dixon CJ, Webb and Kitto JJ said –
“If a plaintiff establishes prima-facie grounds for relief the question whether he is defeated by delay must itself be governed by the kind of considerations upon which the principles of equity proceed.
If the delay means that to grant relief would place the party whose title might otherwise be voidable on equitable grounds in an unreasonable situation, or if, because of change of circumstances, it would give the party claiming relief an unjust advantage or would impose an unfair prejudice on the opposite party, these are matters which may suffice to answer the prima-facie grounds for relief.”

Is it possible to obtain insurance against loss at trial in Australia?

AUSTRALIANS CAN NOW INSURE THEMSELVES AGAINST LOSS AT TRIAL

Australian claimants looking to protect themselves against a loss at trial can now insure themselves locally instead of sourcing cover from overseas.

Aon has placed the first Australian “After the Event” (ATE) policy through underwriter Ironshore Australia Pty Ltd.

ATE insurance protects claimants, whether a client or a law firm, by partially deferring payment of the premium, and payment is contingent on the success of the claim.

Eden Fletcher, National Financial Lines Placement Manager, Aon Risk Solutions Australia said this was a significant step for the Australian legal system.

“ATE insurance has been established in the UK for some time and Australian clients have been able to access the cover by going abroad. However, the overseas policies are not made with the Australian market and legislative system in mind. By being able to now access the product here, it will give clients comfort the product is fit for purpose, and is commissioned by local lawyers,” he said.
“Australia has become the most likely jurisdiction outside of the USA in which a corporation will face significant class action litigation. The risks and costs of fighting these cases are high, most are settled before they reach the courts. With a local solution now available, this provides solicitors with an opportunity to take on more cases as their client’s representative, given the client will have the protection of this insurance,” Mr Fletcher said.

The intention of this policy is not to encourage litigation, since premiums provide an incentive to settle early rather than progress deeper into trial, with the rate varying according to the stage at which the litigation is settled.

“We believe ATE insurance will be eagerly explored by law firms acting for the claimant, as it will make a higher percentage of potential class actions even more viable than present, subject to the merits of the case. When there is ATE insurance behind the case, it validates the case has a reasonable chance of success given Ironshore’s due diligence and underwriting methodology,” Mr Fletcher said.

To find out more about ATE litigation insurance:

Contact Us.

What is a Force Majeure clause?

What is a Force Majeure clause?

A force majeure clause is a method of allocating the risk of a disruptive event. It is a broad catch-all provision whereby the parties list categories or specific instances of otherwise frustrating events, together with the party or parties to bear the risk of the event occurring.

The clause can also grant options to vary, suspend or terminate the contract to one or more of the parties. [1]

Force majeure clauses form part of a contract’s express terms, subject to the conventional methods of construction.

Absent a force majeure clause, it is unlikely a contract’s commercial purpose would suggest that such a provision is so apparent that it goes without saying [2], meaning a court is likely to refuse to imply it.

Further Reading:

For a more detailed discussion please refer to our blog article “Force Majeure Clauses & Frustration: Why the COVID-19 Pandemic is a Wake-Up Call" by Shakvaan Wijetunga | Virtual Intern at Blue Ocean Law Group℠.

Footnotes:

[1] Eg., Yara Nipro P/L v Interfert Australia P/L [2010] QCA 128, [26].

[2] BP Refinery (Westernport) Pty Ltd vHastings Shire Council (1977) 180 CLR 266, 283.

What are pleadings + Why are tears so commonly associated with them?

The book “Pleadings without Tears: A Guide to Legal Drafting Under the Civil Procedure Rules” by William Rose [revised & updated by Roger Eastman] we have in our law firm library in its 9th edition when it was published in 2017.

More editions of this highly valued & trusted guide will no doubt ensue.

The book was originally written back in 1990 specifically to address the problem of tears being shed over mistakes being made in Pleadings.

Trust me when I say that despite all the warnings, mistakes in Pleadings continue to this day.

There are good reasons why you don't want to be the party left crying over what could have been!

What are Pleadings?

Whether you are a self-represented litigant in a Tribunal or represent by a Solicitor or a Barrister in a Court or Tribunal the "Pleadings" will be the sum total of all of the documents containing the application or claim, the defence and counterclaim, the reply or answer, and any requests for and responses to further and better particulars.

Why are Pleadings so important in Civil Litigation?

When you hear the member/judge say the words "the problem is in the Pleadings" or words to that effect you might need to have your tissues on hand.

A great analogy is baking a cake and discovering too late that you left out a key ingredient.

There is no guarantee you will be able to amend the Pleadings to fix the problem at the last minute.

You are generally prevented from making the same claim more than once.

Your missed claim may now be subject to the statute of limitations preventing it from being commenced as it is out of time.

An error in the Pleadings can be irreversibly fatal to the outcome of the civil litigation, or substantially impact on the result or the award of costs once the legal proceedings have completed.

What is the required procedure to file a valid + timely appeal against the decision of a NSW Workers Compensation Commission (WCC) Arbitrator?

NSW Workers Compensation Commission (WCC): Appeal Procedure

1️⃣  If an appeal is to be made against the decision of an Arbitrator, the application must be made to the Registrar, within 28 days of the Arbitrator’s decision, to have the appeal heard by a Presidential member: Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 (NSW) s 352(1)-(2)(‘The 1998 Act’); Workers Compensation Commission Rules 2011 (NSW) r 16.2.

2️⃣  If an appeal is to be made against the decision of a Presidential member, the appeal lies to the NSW Court of Appeal: The 1998 Act s 353(1), (5); Supreme Court Act 1970 (NSW) s 48(1)(a)(vii), (2)(f).

3️⃣  If the appeal being made relates to any of the following a Summons Seeking Leave [that is, consent] to Appeal to the Court of Appeal is required: The 1998 Act s 353(4):

353 APPEAL AGAINST DECISION OF COMMISSION CONSTITUTED BY PRESIDENTIAL MEMBER
(4) The following appeals under this section may be made only with leave of the Court of Appeal--
(a) an appeal from an interlocutory decision,
(b) an appeal from a decision as to costs only,
(c) an appeal where the amount of compensation in dispute is less than $20,000 (or such other amount as may be prescribed by the regulations),
(d) an appeal from a decision made with the consent of the parties.

4️⃣ The rules applying to the general procedure in appealing to the NSW Court of Appeal, as set out in this FAQ apply to appeals against a decision of a WCC Presidential member: Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) r 51.1 (‘UCPR’).

Credits:

The above overview of the NSW Workers Compensation Commission (WCC) Appeal procedure was prepared by Shakvaan Wijetunga | Virtual Intern, Blue Ocean Law Group℠.

What is the required procedure to file a valid + timely appeal to the NSW Court of Appeal?

NSW Court of Appeal: Appeal Procedure

1️⃣ If a Notice of Intention to Appeal is to be filed with the Court of Appeal, it must be done so within 28 days after the material date: Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) r 51.8 (‘UCPR’); Supreme Court Act 1970 (NSW) s48(1)(a)(iv).

2️⃣ The material date in this case is the date of judgment, or determination of the decision being appealed.

3️⃣ The effect of filing a Notice of Intention to Appeal is to start the clock of 3 months within which a Notice of Appeal is to be filed: UCPR rr 51.6, 51.9(1)(a).

4️⃣ The reason for such an effect is that if a Notice of Intention to Appeal is not filed, the Notice of Appeal itself must be filed within 28 days of the material date: UCPR r 51.16(1)(c).  

5️⃣ Failure to lodge a Notice of Intention to Appeal within the 28-day limitation requires two main steps to be taken:

➲ The Notice of Appeal to be submitted; and

➲ An extension of time to be sought within that notice.

6️⃣ For the request for an extension of time, details regarding the following matters must be proffered:

➲ Explanation for the delay;

➲ No prejudice was suffered by the respondent due to the delay;

➲ The application has a real prospect of success;

➲ That the relief sought is within the Court’s jurisdiction;

➲ A compartmentalised outline of the issues/grounds of appeal to be raised.

7️⃣ Failure to satisfy the criteria set out in paragraph 6️⃣  above, which involves explaining away the delay and filing an arguable case, will result in a refusal by the Court to grant an extension of time, and accordingly, an unsuccessful appeal: Fisher v Roads and Maritime Services [2018] NSWCA 295, [5]-[7], [9], [17]-[18].

8️⃣ At the same time or before filing of the Notice of Appeal, a Summons Seeking Leave to Appeal, if leave to appeal is required (Legal advice is strongly recommended on this point) must be filed and served on each necessary party: UCPR rr 51.9, 51.10.

9️⃣ A copy of the Notice of Intention to Appeal +/or Notice of Appeal + Summons Seeking Leave to Appeal (if applicable) must also be filed in the Court registry of the Court below or or a copy lodged with the officer of the Court below: UCPR r 51.42.

🔟 If a Summons Seeking Leave to Appeal needs to be filed, it can include the request for an extension of time (if applicable): UCPR r 51.10(3).

Note:

The filing and service of a Notice of Intention to Appeal is not an originating process and does not operate to commence proceedings in the Court of Appeal: UCPR r 51.9 (3).

Credits:

The above overview of the NSW Court of Appeal procedure was prepared by Shakvaan Wijetunga | Virtual Intern, Blue Ocean Law Group℠.