Fantasy island

By | 20th May 2010

The 1970s was the decade we all like to forget. Amongst many dubious inventions, I have had reason to recall recently the TV series called Fantasy Island. The owner charged wealthy individuals $50,000 each to come to the island and live out their fantasies.

Pretty well all the fantasies were unlikely. I suppose that is what a fantasy is all about, but I thought the 70s were long since behind me until I learned the other day that a law firm had put in a bill for a piece of litigation amounting to £105 million!

Last year, I wrote a piece [King Charles I and the Twitterati, 27th October 2009] about the company involved in this case, Trafigura, although at the time I was more interested in the concept of the super injunction obtained by the company than costs.

The company was accused of illegally dumping toxic waste in the Ivory Coast and some 30,000 Ivorians claimed they had been poisoned. The action was settled without an admission of liability, and the company agreed to pay damages to the claimants which worked out at about £1000 per claimant.

At the time, I thought that this was a woeful case but assumed that this was the last we would hear about it. How wrong can you be?!

The name Trafigura will now, I suspect, be forever linked to the bill submitted by the claimants’ lawyers who are reported to be claiming £105 million in costs from the defendant.

Apparently, “only” £45 million is for legal fees with £15 million for experts, disbursements and insurance. The solicitors had, however, agreed to undertake the case on a conditional fee basis and are now claiming a success fee of 100%, another £45 million.

It will be interesting to see how much of the success fee and how much of the original £45 million the solicitors are allowed by the costs judge. Trafigura is reported to have paid its own lawyers a relatively paltry £14 million!

I have often heard lawyers complain that e-disclosure is an expensive exercise, which is often not the case as readers of this blog will already know, and the claim for £105 million has been described as “staggeringly high” by Trafigura’s Counsel. He might as well have described the claim as a “fantasy”.

Unfortunately, reports currently available do not reveal how much the e-disclosure exercise cost!