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Lords restore the six-year limit on negligence claims

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Architects can breathe a little easier this week with the news that the House of Lords has closed a loophole that previously meant that claims of negligence could be brought against professionals and their insurers many years after the mistake had happened. It is now restored to its six-year limit.

The Lords last week overturned the Court of Appeal decision in Cave v Robinson Jarvis & Rolf, making it clear that 'there is no rational justification for depriving a defendant of a limitation defence where neither his original wrongdoing nor his failure to disclose it to the plaintiff was deliberate'.

Helen Staines, professional negligence partner at law firm Beachcroft Wansbroughs, who took the case, was delighted: 'Today's decision has restored the limitation defence in professional negligence cases and will come as a great relief to all professional firms, retired professionals and their insurers.'

It used to be the case, until 1999, that architects could be safe from risk of a claim of negligence six years after the mistake had happened barring some exceptions. But a ruling that year, Brocklesby v Armitage & Guest, demolished the limitation defence. Since then, architects have faced the threat of old claims being dug up that would have been time barred. It is estimated that 'many hundreds' of cases were stayed in anticipation of last week's outcome, and insurers will review their reserves for damages and costs. These will almost certainly be thrown out.

'The practical implication for professionals is that they will not now have to ensure they keep all their records and files indefinitely in case they are sued for some long unappreciated mistake, ' added Staines.

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