Monday, 10 April 2017

Neighbour Favours May Cost You

Doing a neighbour a favour could be costly where you are a professional, the favour requires you to exercise your expertise and the neighbour is placing their trust in you. 

Take this case in which the Court of Appeal made its rulings last Friday. * A married couple owned a house in North London and wanted their garden landscaped. They had received a quote for around £175K so we aren't talking about messing around with a pond and some daisies. A good friend and American qualified architect came to their aid. She would act as an architect and project manager on the job and organise other landscapers for the couple. No charge! But and it was a big but - she intended to provide design work such as lighting and planting after the heavier work had been done. In the past, the couple had helped her out. 

The project turned sour. The couple became unhappy with the quality and progress of the work and the architect's involvement was brought  to an end. The couple sued the architect for damages, claiming that she was responsible for some of the things that had gone wrong. The architect denied she was legally responsible for anything. A county court trial judge gave a judgment on preliminary legal issues in favour of the couple. The architect appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal decided that the architect did owe the couple a duty of care even though she was not being paid for the services which were under attack by the couple. If someone possesses a special skill and undertakes to apply that skill for the assistance of another person who relies on it, a legal duty of care to that other person will be established. It matters not that there is no contract as such between them. It is a situation that is akin to contact. If that someone was being paid, it would be a contract. 

Where the assistance is given in a social or informal way the result may be different. Here, however, there was a significant project being approached in a professional way and the architect did hope to receive payment for services later on.

The case will now go back to the county court for it to decide on whether the architect breached her duty of care and,if so, what losses the couple suffered as a result and for which she would need to compensate them.

Until tonight, then, when I'll see you down at the boozer at 8pm and I'll have a look through those court papers for you. No charge but you might want to buy my book Breaking Law!

* Lejonvarn V Burgess and another [2017] EWCA Civ 254