SMALL FIRM LEFT TO COURT TROUBLE
The High Court judge described the case as an 'unhappy saga', but Londonbased practice Collett and Farmer would argue this was an understatement.
The rm has just emerged from a horrendous three-year legal battle after a seemingly good client 'went bad'.
Back in 2002, the overhaul of a Grade II*-listed Georgian hall in Bengeo, Hertfordshire seemed like a nice job. But the project soon turned into a nightmare for the practice which, in a bid to recover unpaid fees of around £15,000, was forced to go through adjudication and eventually face proceedings in the Technology and Construction Court - climaxing in an unnecessary two-week trial.
The experience, which has cost the practice's insurers hundreds of thousands of pounds, has deterred the rm from ever taking on another private client.
When asked to turn the house into a luxury pad by a friend of a close contact, practice partner Mark Farmer was understandably keen to take on the 'all singing, all dancing' £800,000 scheme.
However, shortly after planning was granted in late 2002, the wheels started to come off.
According to Farmer, the client, who had caught cerebral malaria while on holiday, began behaving erratically. Recommendations to appoint consultants were overlooked, contracts with the builders were never signed, and in April 2003 the practice walked away after demands for payment were ignored.
Like most small practices, Collett and Farmer was eager to avoid the courts and opted to go to adjudication, hoping it would be cheaper and quicker.
'In 20 years of practising it was the rst time we had received a complaint, ' said Farmer. 'The client had not come back and queried any bills and in that respect the case was black and white.
We had no possibility of losing.'
And they didn't.
But what happened next caused the practice to question whether the outcome of the adjudication was worth the paper it was written on.
The firm applied for summary judgment based on the successful adjudication result, but as it did so the client lodged his own extraordinary claim for £600,000, based on a string of minor technicalities.
And the judge allowed the client's case to be heard, relegating the adjudication to the back-burner.
But the client seemed in no hurry to press on with his claim, and it was only after two years of delays - due to bereavements, bouts of illness, skiing accidents and at least four changes of solicitor - that he eventually brought his case to court.
Things did not go well for him once he was there. In his judgment, Judge Peter Coulson said the claimant 'had not told the truth in court' and went on to reject every head of claim.
Unblemished - but not mentally unscarred - Collett and Farmer won the case, the outstanding fees and full indemnity costs. But it is undoubtedly a cautionary tale.
Small practices beware of what appears to be the ideal client.