A reasonable and proportionate fee to pay a medical agency not signed up to the Medical Reporting Organisation Agreement (MROA) is £200, a regional costs judge in Liverpool has decided.
Ruling in three conjoined cases, District Judge Woodburn at Liverpool County Court said he was aware that “a number of other cases” involving the same issue were awaiting his judgment.
The lead case was Charman v John Reilly (Civil Engineering) Ltd, but each involved a claimant represented by Liverpool law firm Duncan Gibbins, which instructed Tri Star Medicals – the firm’s partners are also directors and shareholders of Tri Star. Each medical report was charged at £350 plus VAT.
The fee payable under the MROA is £200 for a GP report where there is no need for medical records, and the defendant – represented by Nick Bacon QC – argued that this was evidence of a reasonable and proportionate fee.
Both the defendant and judge cited HHJ Cook’s 2002 ruling in Stringer v Copley, in which he allowed the charges of the medical agency incurred in obtaining the report, but only so far as they did not exceed the reasonable and proportionate work if it were carried out by a solicitor. He also said the agency’s invoice should distinguish between the medical fee and their own charges.
DJ Woodburn noted that Stringer “has remain undisturbed for a period in excess of 10 years”, and also expressed frustration that such an invoice had not been provided.
He said the defendant was “entitled to ask reasonable questions as to how the costs they are asked to pay, are arrived at”. But he continued: “I do not believe that the fixed-price agreement reached by the signatories to the [MROA] is the appropriate measure of a reasonable and proportionate charge. The parties chose to be signatories of the agreement; there is no good reason for those terms to be imposed on non-parties.”
He said: “Doing the best I can in relation to fairly straightforward low-value claims where medical records are not required, where there is a ready panel of willing medical specialists available, where standard letters may be used to notify the claimant and the solicitor of the medical appointment and having regard to the use of a standard process for high-volume work, I would assess the cost of a reasonably experienced and competent medical agency to carry out the work to obtain the medical report at £50 plus VAT, where applicable.
“In the absence of any information to assist me, I would further assess the cost payable by the agency to the medical expert [in such circumstances] at £150.”
Howard Dean, director of costs at Keoghs – which represented the defendant in Charman – commended the decision and said it should provide “sufficient authority to successfully oppose claims in excess of MROA rates on fairly straightforward low-value claims”.
He was also pleased by the emphasis on the claimant and their solicitor providing a breakdown of the invoice. “We shall continue to challenge claims where the medical agency fees are in excess of MROA fees,” Mr Dean said.