Medical agency fee breakdowns: Is there really an obligation to disclose?

When dealing with disputed medical expert fees  in low value claims, claimant solicitors have heard  countless  arguments from their opponents that they  are required to disclose a breakdown of the  medical agency invoice and that they should recover no more than the rate provided in the Medical Reporting Organising Agreement guideline (MROA) for a medical report fee.

The relatively recent case Charman v John Reilly (Civil Engineering) Ltd at Liverpool County Court (2013)  Regional Costs Judge Woodburn  appeared to have provided the  paying party  with an engine to drive this argument.  However, on analysis of the judgment, we consider to what extent this authority can be used to provide paying party Defendants with enough fuel to succeed with these arguments.

In Charman the Claimant claimed the costs of an expert  medical report  in the sum of £420.00 (including VAT). The report was obtained from a medical agency that was not a party to the MRO Agreement. The Defendant disputed the fee claimed on the basis that, in the absence of a breakdown of agency’s fee, the MRO rate of £200 plus VAT was reasonable. When asked to consider the matter RCJ Woodburn re-affirmed that the parties have a duty to assist the Court in furthering the overriding objective and expressed that the Defendant was entitled to ask reasonable questions as to how the medical report fee was calculated. Yet, what we have noticed that Defendant’s often seem to overlook is that in his judgment RCJ Woodburn’s made it clear that there was no good reason to impose MRO rates on parties who are not signatories to the MRO agreement.

Contrary to the popular belief of paying parties, the first instance judgment in Charman is not a binding authority to impel receiving parties to disclose a breakdown of a medical agency fee to the paying party. Although RCJ Woodburn conveyed his frustration at the Claimant’s failure to provide the Court with a breakdown to assist in assessment of reasonableness and proportionately of the agency fees, he did not express an obligation on the Claimant’s part to provide the Defendant with a breakdown of the fee. To do so would be likely to result in tactical unreasonable requests by paying parties, as well as possible delays and an unnecessary increase in the costs of assessment.

The authority to follow is Stringer v Copley (2002) where Master Cook indicated that for the court to make a proper assessment a breakdown should be made available to the court at assessment. In other words there is no obligation to disclose breakdowns on the paying party but should the court need to assess the fee then a breakdown ought to be provided to the Judge dealing with the assessment.