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Rob Houghton-Evans

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  • Comment on: Architect awarded at least £400k from neighbours after failed legal spat

    Rob Houghton-Evans's comment 12 February, 2020 1:47 pm

    The case was heard in 4 courts in succession. The first was in the TCC where the breach of contract claim was dismissed but a duty of care in tort was upheld. This judgement allowed that a tortious duty of care could embrace both acts of commission and of omission. At appeal, the judgement was qualified to exclude liability in tort for acts of omission. The claim was, at that time, largely based on assertions that the defendant was negligent for not doing things that were promised or which an architect ought to have done.

    By thus qualifying the 1st judgement, the Court of appeal removed the basis for pursuing the claims in negligence for what the defendant did not do. Nonetheless, claims of negligent omissions were, with some rephrasing, maintained. For example, the claimants originally said there was no fault in the defendant’s drawings but that she was negligent for not producing technical drawings. They then rephrased the claim averring the drawings were technical drawings and as such were defective in that they lacked construction details. A similar reversal was in the budget argument. Originally the claimants denied being told the budget was £130,000 and that, had they been told this, they would not have proceeded. The first court found it evident that they were advised more than once of the budget. In response they changed the claim to be that they relied on the advice that the budget was £130,000 and that this was a negligent underestimate of cost.

    The dispute returned to the TCC where the claim was dismissed after some 6 days of examining lay and expert witnesses. Cost were awarded to the defendant on the standard basis and subsequently revised on appeal to be partly on the indemnity basis.

    It is natural to help your neighbour without setting out written terms and confirming everything done in writing. In this case, it cost the good neighbour substantial legal fees and time for which indemnity costs does not fully compensate.