Late settlement of libel case
In the case of Optical Express Ltd v Associated Newspapers Ltd, the judge was critical of the claimant for accepting the defendant's offer to settle, long after it had been made.
Optical Express brought proceedings against Associated Newspapers for over £21 million, in relation to an article which had appeared in the Daily Mail in January 2015. The Mail offered to settle for £125k in May 2016.
Optical Express did not accept the offer until February 2017, by which time costs had increased significantly.
The judge noted that Optical Express had not explained why they suddenly changed their mind, and noted that the settlement offer which a very small percentage of the overall value of the claim.
The judge felt that the claimant's re-evaluation of the claim, which is probably what caused them to change their minds about the offer, ought to have been made earlier. On this basis, the judge said Optical Express had been ‘highly unreasonable’ for continuing with the claim after the offer had been made although he accepted that they could not have accurately calculate their losses at the start.
However, the judge took the view that the damages paid by the Mail to Optical Express was substantial and therefore the claimant was awarded costs up to the date when he thought the claimant ought to have provided information to the defendant about the claim. The claimant will still recover the majority of their costs from the Mail.
Judith Thompson, litigation partner at Samuels Solicitors with a specialism in libel, says: "This case highlights how important it is to take expert advice at the outset about the level of damages in a libel claim. This is not as straightforward as a breach of contract claim for example, where damages might be obvious. It also shows how important it is that proper consideration is given to offers at the point at which they are made, to avoid adverse costs consequences later on".