For bereaved families, there is always a question of what amount – if any – of the costs of preparing for and attending an inquest can be recovered in any subsequent civil proceedings, where the deceased’s death was caused by negligence.
In some cases, legal aid may be available to the family of the deceased to cover the costs of the inquest and any associated proceedings. However, this is limited meaning that most families will need to fund these costs privately. If there are subsequent civil proceedings against a liable party, then some of the inquest costs may be recoverable under that claim.
There has been an increasing body of case law addressing this point, and in a recent appeal case, the court has allowed a mother to recover the inquest costs as part of a personal injury claim arising from her son’s death.
The decision means that bereaved families may be properly represented at inquests in similar circumstances, where certain criteria are met.
Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service -v- Veevers 
In 2013, Mrs Veever’s son – a serving Firefighter with Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service – died whilst tackling a blaze at a shop in Manchester.
Prior to the inquest in April 2016, the Service confirmed that it would settle the claim on a “full basis” but was not in a position to make an open admission of liability.
Following the inquest, Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service formally admitted liability for the death. A claim for compensation was brought and settled at £80,000, together with the mother’s reasonable costs.
During the assessment of those legal costs, the question arose as to whether the mother was entitled to recover the approximate costs of £140,000 in preparing for and attending her son’s inquest.
The Service argued that the mother’s inquest costs could not be considered reasonable or proportionate and that there was no general entitlement to the costs of an inquest, just because it dealt with facts related to a civil claim.
The Service further argued that the court had to be cautious in considering why the costs of the inquests were incurred – it was not the responsibility of a defendant to a claim to meet such costs.
The mother argued that despite the Service having had the chance to do so, liability had not been admitted before the inquest. This meant that there was a risk that they may resile from their position. By not making a proper admission of liability, the Service sought to avoid the costs of representation at the inquest.
The costs judge held that the inquest costs were recoverable, as they were ‘of and incidental’ to the claim.
The Service appealed this decision on costs, but the appeal was dismissed. In his judgment, His Honour Judge Pearce noted that inquest costs were recoverable if they were incidental to the claim, and that the central issue here was whether the Service had admitted liability or showed a willingness to satisfy the claim. If the position was not one of ‘unqualified admission’ then a costs judge was entitled to find inquest costs recoverable. There was clear guidance in the court rules as to the procedure for making a formal admission, which put liability beyond argument.
Recovery of Costs
In order for the cost of pre-action work to be recovered, these costs must have been:
i) Of use and service in the claim:
ii) Relevant to the matters in issue in the claim; and
iii) Attributable to the Defendant’s conduct.
All three of these criteria, which would apply to the costs of an inquest heard prior to any civil proceedings, must be met in order to recover those costs.
If you are attending an inquest, then the following points should be considered:
- You should be able to recover your costs of attending an inquest in subsequent civil proceedings if:
- The above criteria is met; and
- The costs are reasonable and proportionate.
- You should consider the terms of any concession or admission made ahead of an inquest carefully. Has a clear open admission of liability been made?
- If there is no admission of liability, this does not automatically mean that the costs of attending an inquest will be recoverable in subsequent civil proceedings. The criteria need to be met in full.
- An admission of a breach of duty is not a binding admission of liability. As such, this does not necessarily mean that the costs of attending the inquest on the liability issue are not recoverable.
- An admission of liability which leaves the issue of damages or contributory negligence outstanding, will leave the costs related to those two issues recoverable.
- If an offer to settle a claim in full were made and accepted, resulting in a civil claim being finished ahead of an inquest, then the costs of attending the inquest would not be recoverable.
- Inquest costs should always be included in any costs budget as pre-action costs.
The costs involved in attending an inquest are always a factor to consider for the bereaved families. For further advice on representation at inquests, please contact Michael Mulcare in our litigation team.