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Leigh Day considers appeal after being found negligent in £30m toxic waste spill claim

A High Court judge has ruled Leigh Day was negligent in its duty of care to thousands of victims of a toxic waste spill after failing to secure their £30m settlement.

The firm failed to ensure that 6,600 victims, including claimant Sylvie Aya Agouman, of the 2006 incident received compensation after millions of pounds were lost to corruption by local officials.

The case stems from a toxic spill in 2006, when a Trafigura ship allegedly unloaded toxic materials in the port city of Abidjan, which were then dumped by a local company.

A hundred thousand people sought medical attention and 15 people died after exposure to toxic fumes. Leigh Day represented 30,000 of the victims and secured a settlement from Trafigura in 2009.

In judgment at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday (16 June), Mr Justice Andrew Smith said: ‘Leigh Day were under a duty to exercise reasonable skill and care to make safe arrangements for receiving the settlement sum, for safeguarding it pending distribution.

‘The type of loss that was suffered was that, as a result of Leigh Day not taking proper steps to protect the settlement sum from being acquired dishonestly by third parties making claims to it, Ms Agouman (and apparently other Trafigura claimants in her position) did not receive her due. In my judgment, the loss was of exactly the kind that would be contemplated as the likely result of breach of the duty.’

Leigh Day said in a statement it was considering appealing the ruling as the firm does not believe it fell short of its professional stands.

‘We fought hard to gain compensation for all 30,000 of our clients and we were devastated when some of the monies were misappropriated,’ a Leigh Day spokesperson said. ‘We did our damnedest to recover the monies resulting in the great majority of our clients having received their compensation.’

Late last year Leigh Day also came under fire when two lawyers were referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over claims relating to the torture and murder of civilians by the British army during the Iraq war.

Senior partner Martyn Day – who also acted in the Trafigura settlement – and partner Sapna Malik face prosecution by the Solicitors Regulation Authority on whether £75,000 payments to the firm were made improperly.

Leigh Day instructed Bond Dickinson and Jamie Smith QC of 4 New Square while Agouman was represented by Jacqueline Perry QC and Andrew Bershadski of 2 Temple Gardens, instructed by Harding Mitchell.