11 February 2019

Claims to surge against lawyers post-RC

This article was originally published by Lawyers Weekly on 12 February 2019.

The aftermath of the banking royal commission is set to see a surge in complaints and claims against lawyers, a professional negligence partner has warned.

According to Bartier Perry partner Katherine Ruschen, a spate of royal commissions and string of high-profile public inquires of late has prompted an increase in claims and complaints made against both legal and health professionals.

The final report from the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry was handed down last week, while the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety kicked off yesterday. A starting date for the Victorian Royal Commission Management of Police Informants is yet to be confirmed.

With lawyers and health professionals falling more under the microscope with such inquiries, Ms Ruschen said disgruntled clients and patients have become more empowered to take action than they may have been in the past.

“I’ve been advising legal and health professionals for over a decade but it’s really in the last three to four years that there’s been a noticeable uplift in negligence and misconduct complaints against them,” she explained.

“One reason for this is that we live in an age of public inquiries which are attracting substantial media attention and focus significantly on the rights of the consumer. Fifteen years ago many clients or patients would have been unaware that there were even regulatory bodies they could complain to. Today they are more knowledgeable and they’re not holding back when they’re unhappy.”

According to Ms Ruschen, research shows it’s often suburban-based legal and health practices, that were most vulnerable to negligence claims and misconduct complaints against them.

“I don’t think that’s a reason for any complacency for mid-sized or larger practices,” she said.

“The banking royal commission has highlighted very clearly that scale and strength is not a guaranteed protection against a determined group of unhappy individuals.”

Ms Ruschen joined Bartier Perry this month from Mills Oakley, where she was a partner focusing on professional risks and public liability.