Claiming Against A Friend For Professional Negligence


The Law Of… claiming for poor advice/workmanship

The Court of Appeal recently heard a case that established  whether an individual owes a duty of care when providing free advice to friends.

In a case at the High Court heard last year Mrs Basia Lejonvarn, an architect, offered to assist two of her friends, Mr and Mrs Burgess, in landscaping their garden, after they received a quote from a third party company that they deemed too high.

Explaining the implications of the case in professional negligence claims Helen Hall – Solicitor in Simpson Millar's Dispute Resolution team – answers some of the key questions that arise as a result of the Court of Appeal's ruling.

Can Work Done For Free Be Negligent?

Mrs Lejonvarn offered to assist in seeking contractors and undertaking some drawing work to enable costings and a budget to be set for the works. Though she became involved, no contract was ever signed to set out the scope of her role and there was no agreement to pay any fees for those services.

It was anticipated she would charge for later design work for the project.

However, due to a disagreement over costs and timelines for the project, the relationship broke down and alternative contractors were engaged. It was claimed by the Burgesses that the work that was completed under the supervision of their friend was defective and resulted in additional costs.

Mrs Lejonvarn argued that:

  1. She should not be held responsible where there was no contract
  2. She had not charged for her advice and services on the landscaping project
  3. It would be unreasonable and unfair for her to pay compensation to the Burgesses in these circumstances

Despite this, the High Court concluded that Mrs Lejonvarn should and could be held responsible for the consequences of providing poor or defective services.

That decision was recently upheld in the Court of Appeal, which ruled that Mrs Lejonvarn was potentially liable for the negligent work undertaken, even if this was done without a predefined contract and in the absence of payment for those services.

Can Compensation Be Claimed For Free Work?

This case highlights that compensation may be claimed even when work is done on a gratuitous or free basis and where no contract has been drawn up.

The parties in this case were friends for 10 years and had worked together in a professional capacity in the past. The Burgesses wanted their garden landscaped and had received a quote for the work from an independent contractor. Discussing the quote in a social setting with Mrs Lejonvarn, she said she felt the project could be done for less.

Over the next few months Mrs Lejonvarn offered to assist with securing a quote from contractors she had used before to undertake the works and to supervise the works. She did not mention or agree any fee for her services.

Despite the work being gratuitous, the Burgesses claimed compensation for the subsequent financial losses they suffered after having to pay for remedial work on their garden, as the landscaping undertaken under the supervision of Mrs Lejonvarn was of a poor standard.

Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal agreed that despite the work being undertaken on a gratuitous basis, Mrs Lejonvarn had a duty of care in relation to providing her professional services as an architect and in relation to the services she did provide when she was aware that her expertise were being relied upon by the Burgesses

What About If No Contract Was In Place?

The case dealt also with the position where there was no contract in place, as a precise agreement could not be found from an exchange of emails between parties.

This meant that there were no clear definitions of the scope of Mrs Lejonvarn services, timelines, payment or liability. Despite there being no formal contract the Court concluded that Mrs Lejonvarn did have a duty of care in negligence.

The court concluded that she had assumed responsibility to the Burgesses for those services and could be liable if they were not provided to the standard of a reasonably competent architect, irrelevant of the fact there was no contract or payment.

When Can I Claim Compensation For Poor Advice Or Work On My Property?

Beyond establishing a point of law in cases of gratuitous services, Burgess & Anor v Lejonvarn highlights some clear guidance for when a claim can be made when poor advice contributes to poor workmanship.

The case shows that even when that advice is given for free you can recover the losses you incur fixing the poor workmanship.

In this case, the Burgesses claimed compensation for the difference in the budget that they agreed with Mrs Lejonvarn’s advice before the work commenced and the final costs they incurred, as well as the costs for the remedial work to fix the defects caused by Mrs Lejonvarn’s poor advice.

If you believe you have incurred financial loss, because of the defective work of a professional, get in touch with our Professional Negligence team, who will be able to advise further.

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