High Court strikes out top footballer’s negligence claim against law firm

CRS: Firm actually did what claim said it should have done

The High Court has struck out a £6m negligence claim brought by a former Premier League footballer against City firm Charles Russell Speechleys (CRS).

Master McQuail said he had failed to show how anything else the law firm could have done might have produced a better result.

The claim was brought by Steve Finnan – an Irish international best known for his time at Liverpool, where he was part of the 2005 Champions League winning team – over advice he received in relation to a dispute with his brother, Sean.

Mr Finnan provided funding for a property development business run by Sean that operated in South-West London, but became concerned about how the money was being used.

He first approached CRS in early 2016 for help recovering the money, made as director’s loans, and exiting the business.

Mr Finnan terminated the retainer two years later following the pre-trial review in two section 994 petitions he had brought against Sean and the companies through which they operated the business as 50/50 owners.

He instructed Candey instead, and the case settled during the trial in March 2018 with each brother taking 100% ownership of one of the companies, and Sean and his company agreeing to pay Mr Finnan £4m in instalments, secured by charges over their properties.

However, the £4m was not paid and Mr Finnan successfully presented a bankruptcy petition against Sean in January 2019. He told Master McQuail that to date he has only recovered around £277,000.

The claim, which concerned CRS’s advice to pursue the section 994 proceedings instead of pushing for repayment of the director’s loans, was for at least £6m, made up of the loans, the value of the shares in the companies, the costs of the proceedings, and the cost of funding those costs.

CRS sought to strike out the claim; Mr Finnan, acting as a litigant in person, applied to amend his particulars.

CRS argued that the case was meritless: both its lawyers and counsel advised Mr Finnan as to his options and he chose to commence the proceedings, while he had not pleaded a case on causation and, in any case, could not have recovered more than he did.

Master McQuail agreed that the claim form failed to identify the causation of loss and did not include a counterfactual.

She went on: “The factual causation question is: is the loss for which the claimant seeks damages the consequence of the defendant’s act or omission? The loss which the claimant seeks to recover in these proceedings could only have been achieved for the claimant by CRS to the extent that Sean or the companies could have paid the amounts owing and the costs incurred.

“The claimant’s own initial instructions to CRS and the evidence of the claimant’s own expert in the petitions, is that there was never a time when there was cash available to make payment.

“It is also notable that the claimant himself injected further cash into the companies in late 2016, which is entirely consistent with the companies being short of liquid funds.”

Mr Finnan had suggested, as a partial counterfactual, demanding the repayment of the loans. But the master said the evidence showed that such demands were made by CRS.

This mean the pleading was not of a partial counterfactual, “but of what in fact occurred”.

Master McQuail added: “There is no evidence of the means, against the background of the known cash position and the known eventual working out of the settlement agreement, by which the making of any such demands would or could have led to a better result than that which the claimant actually achieved.”

She decided against giving Mr Finnan a final opportunity to produce new particulars of claim.

“The claimant’s proposed amendments and his evidence filed in response to CRS’s application fail to identify how the claimant could amend his particulars of claim to plead a viable case on causation of the loss which he claims in the proceedings.

“The claimant has no answer to the lack of cash within the companies or the lack of any value available to be extracted from the companies or Sean.

“The claimant has no explanation either for how if, as was in fact the case, Sean did not respond positively to demands for payment he could have extracted monies from the companies against Sean’s wishes…

“There is nothing in the claimant’s evidence which supports a credible and realistic case that any different and better outcome than he achieved could ever have been achieved.”

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