Responding to a request for a Compulsory Conference
Compulsory Conference PIPA – Compulsory Conference Queensland – Compulsory Conference WorkCover Qld – Compulsory Conference Personal Injury
In claims regulated by the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002 (Qld) (PIPA), Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (WCRA) and the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 (Qld) (MAIA) any party may ‘call’ a Compulsory Conference (conference).
So, you’ve been involved in a matter for some time now and another party calls a conference. What do you do?
Here’s our list of suggested ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’:
Ignore the request
If a request for a conference is made, a response should be given within a reasonable timeframe. What’s ‘reasonable’ will vary for each matter, the number of parties involved and the time of year. For instance, if it’s October and parties are trying to arrange a mediated conference in a multi-party dispute for December, it would be helpful for all the parties to provide their availability within a day or two, to lock down a date.
Whenever a request for a conference is made, we should consider it possible that all communications exchanged between the parties thereafter could end up annexed to an affidavit in a Court application. If there’s a gaping whole in a chronology showing no response to a request from one party – that party should expect embarrassment at the hearing of the application.
Immediately agree to the request
Unless you have instructions from your client, intimate knowledge of the matter and you are confident that all outstanding steps, information and documents will be taken or gathered before a conference – do not just jump in and commit to a conference. Don’t agree to a conference just because there’s pressure from another party to provide an immediate response. This can be a trap that early career lawyers fall into and this kind of reactive advocacy could impact upon the outcome of the matter and the relationship with a client.
Cause unreasonable delay
If there are outstanding steps or investigations that should have been completed and they haven’t – don’t refuse to agree to a conference because that work hasn’t been done. A common object of each of the pre-court regimes is the early resolution of personal injury claims. Of course, we are all human (especially lawyers) and at times, some matters demand our attention over others.
A better approach could be to explain to the other party that you will need certain information or material in order to actively participate in a conference, sign a Certificate of Readiness or make a meaningful Mandatory Final Offer (MFO). Otherwise, consider suggesting a tentative date for a conference, proposing the matter proceed by way of informal conference or that a date for conference be scheduled within a defined timeframe.
Review the matter
The exchange of MFOs, Certificates of Readiness and the cost consequences that flow from MFOs, make holding a conference a step with serious consequences for clients and lawyers.
A Certificate of Readiness under the PIPA and WCRA, certifies that the lawyer (or the party) considers the party to be, in all respects, ready for the conference. In claims regulated by the MAIA – the legislation is more onerous – with the lawyer required to certify that ‘the party is in all respects ready for trial‘.
Some of the things to consider when reviewing a matter are whether:
- all outstanding steps have been undertaken under the legislation.
- all factual investigations and instructions from the client have been obtained.
- adequate responses have been received from the Claimant, other parties or non-parties to all requests for information and documentation.
- all necessary expert evidence has been provided.
- the parties have undertaken disclosure.
- all parties with a liability in contract, tort or under a policy of insurance have been joined to the claim.
For multi-party disputes, it may be appropriate for a conference to proceed by way of mediation. A conference can proceed by way of mediation, ‘if .. the parties agree’. Parties are sometimes reluctant to suggest mediation. Perhaps this is because they’re concerned the other party/ies may think they really want the matter resolved or perhaps they’re concerned it could be seen as a concession of liability or risk exposure.
There can also be disputes about the contributions towards a mediator’s fee. Often a party who considers itself with no exposure will resist agreeing to meet their share of the cost of a mediator. This position might be justified, for instance, where one party is owed a contractual indemnity by another. However, these disputes can end up costing clients more in solicitor’s fees than the actual share of the mediator’s fee, so it’s best to stick to the real issues in dispute. Instead, make your attitude towards the claim known through Contribution Notices, liability responses or requests for particulars.
Of course, it’s not always appropriate to mediate. If the parties know that a matter is unlikely to settle at conference, it may be a cost that they’d prefer to avoid and reserve mediation for the litigated stage. Conversely, if the parties think a matter can be resolved because the parties are on the same page, then mediation may not be necessary.
Informal conferencing can be useful where a party is not ready to participate in a conference under the legislation. The parties can agree to participate in an informal conference and agree to dispose with the requirement for a conference under the legislation to be held if the matter does not settle.
With this approach, parties don’t have the pressure of MFOs and Certificates of Readiness weighing upon the negotiations. Also, if the matter fails to resolve, they needn’t incur the legal costs of a conference at a later date.
Set a tentative date
In a multi-party dispute it’s a good idea for the parties to tentatively schedule a conference early in the matter to give the everyone a date to work towards. This is practical in multi-party disputes where claims may be regulated by two or more pieces of legislation. Also, with a date scheduled months in advance, it makes it difficult for one party to wriggle out with excuses. Medical examinations, factual investigations, requests to parties and requests to non-parties can all be worked into an agreed timetable.
The object of a conference is for a claim to be settled at an early stage, without the need for litigation. There’s no point in agreeing to a conference if the parties won’t be ready but one party should not cause unreasonable delay for the others.
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