Where numerous people are injured by the same cause, the courts are well able to achieve justice for all of them by means of group litigation orders (GLOs). However, as a High Court case showed, those affected risk losing their right to compensation if they sit on their hands and delay contacting solicitors.
Proceedings under the terms of a GLO were launched on behalf of hundreds of former steel industry workers whose health was said to have been seriously affected by workplace exposure to dust and fumes. Most of those affected were still living, but claims were also brought on behalf of the estates of those who had died.
Before the latter claims could be registered under the GLO, grants of probate or letters of administration had to be obtained. As is usual in such cases, the Court set a deadline by which all the claims had to be lodged, and that had been met in the vast majority of cases. However, the requisite formalities in 20 of the cases had not been completed before the deadline expired.
In those circumstances, an extension of the deadline was sought so that the 20 claims could be registered and proceed to trial. That application was, however, resisted by the defendant to the claims – a company that had inherited the legal liabilities of long-defunct steel industry employers.
The company argued that it would be prejudiced by an extension to the deadline. Amongst other things, it submitted that it would be exposed to increased litigation costs and that it had been prevented from putting in place adequate financial reserves against the potential value of the unregistered claims.
In ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the application amounted to a request for a procedural indulgence. However, the number of unregistered claims was modest and an extension of the deadline would have little or no impact on the progress of the case. The company had failed to establish that such an extension would cause it any real prejudice. The Court granted the application and extended the deadline so as to enable the 20 claims to be registered.