Court of Appeal considers time-limited offers

Saigol v Thorney Ltd (T/A/ Thorney Motorsport) [2014] EWCA Civ 556

The Court of Appeal considered the relevance of an offer to settle which was only left open for acceptance for a period of 22 hours.  S had taken his 20-year old BMW to T for it to be modified for use in racing.  T subsequently sought more than the agreed price of the work and refused to return the vehicle pending payment.  S failed to pay and T advertised the car for sale.  S successfully secured an injunction and issued proceedings for damages.  T brought a counterclaim.

The parties attended a mediation, which was ultimately unsuccessful and T made an offer to accept £2,000.00 the following day, which was open for acceptance for a period of 22 hours only.  The matter proceeded to trial and for reasons that are unapparent from the judgement the trial of this straightforward, low-value dispute was allowed two days of Court time before a circuit judge.  The trial judge found for S against T for £745 of his claim and for T against S for £375 of its claim: T would therefore pay a balance of £370 to S.  On the question of costs, the trial judge considered the claim to be a draw and had found that the parties had advanced financial claims of ‘unjustified magnitude’, but ordered S to pay T’s costs from 21 days after T’s offer as S had failed to better it.  Notwithstanding the limited sums in issue in the claim itself, S sought legal costs of £67,000 and T sought legal costs of £77,000.  S successfully appealed the order as to costs.  Rimer LJ found that: ‘those who are really serious about achieving [settlement] do not make offers that are open for just 22 hours and should receive no credit for making offers that are so time-limited’ and substituted the trial judge’s order for one of no order as to costs, leaving the parties to bear the £144,000 in legal costs apparently incurred.

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