The recent decision in the Technological Construction Court of Burgess v. Lejonvarn  EWHC 3166 (TCC) is a stark reminder of the fact that a professional may be held liable in negligence when providing services free of charge.
Professionals need to be careful when providing assistance to anybody. In the case the Defendant provided gratuitous project management and architectural services to her friends and ex-neighbours in relation to a garden landscaping project. The Claimants were unhappy at the cost of the project. They understood the budget to have been £78,000 whereas the claimant suggested it was actually £130,000. The Claimants completed the project without the ongoing assistance of the Defendant at a cost of £170,000 plus an alleged £190,000 for remedial works.
The Claimants brought a professional negligence claim based on the difference between the total costs of the works including the remedial works and the cost originally quoted by a different contractor. The claim was for approximately £200,000.
The Court held that there was no contract between the parties but that the Defendant did owe a duty of care in tort in relation to the provision of her professional services. This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal which stressed that the duty did not require the defendant to carry out any services but rather to exercise reasonable skill and care in any services that she did provide.
On the facts of the case the Defendant was found not to have been negligent in that the services she provided were provided with reasonable skill and care or where it was alleged she failed to provide adequate advice she was not under a duty to do so as she had not provided that service.
Whilst the Defendant may not have been liable in the case it is a timely reminder of the potential for liability where advice is provided free of charge. Professionals need to give careful consideration to any advice they provide even at a preliminary stage particularly in respect of their ongoing duties to any professional indemnity insurance.
If you require any further guidance on this matter, please feel free to contact Justin Emerson on 01245 228113 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.