As we approach the end of the year we look back at the professional negligence cases heard in England and Wales in 2019.
Before we start looking at the case law, it is important to remember that litigation is a last resort in a professional negligence claim. Most cases are settled between the parties before reaching a trial. Indeed many settle without having to issue court proceedings at all.
Edwards on behalf of the estate of the late Thomas Arthur Watkins -v- Hugh James Ford Simey Solicitors
My colleague considered this case in detail earlier this month. In brief, this was a claim against solicitors who had acted in a personal injury claim. The professional negligence claim reached the Supreme Court earlier this year. The claimant alleged that the solicitors had undersettled the personal injury claim. The Supreme Court had to decide whether Mr Watkins would have likely succeeded in his personal injury claim had the negligence not occurred. Despite more recent medical evidence suggesting that he would not have been successful, the Supreme Court found in his favour.
Freeborn and Another v Marcal
This was a professional negligence claim against an architect. The Claimants instructed the architect to design a cinema room for their home. The architect changed the design without consulting the claimants, and the claimants issued a professional negligence claim. The court awarded the claimants substantial damages to allow them to demolish and rebuild. My colleague considered this case in detail in an article earlier this year.
Paul Wright v Troy Lucas & Co and George Rusz
Here, Mr Wright brought a professional negligence claim against a firm of unqualified legal advisers that had acted for him in a medical negligence claim. Mr Rusz did not say that he was a solicitor, but did tell Mr Wright that he was “an experienced legal professional”. Unfortunately for Mr Wright, Mr Rusz’s advice was not up to standard and Mr Wright missed the opportunity to recover all of the damages that would have been available.
The High Court ordered Mr Rusz to pay over £260,000 plus costs to Mr Wright. The High Court confirmed that where an unqualified person presents themselves as having competent skills to deal with your case, they will owe you a duty of care in the same way as a fully qualified legal professional.
Hanbury and Hanbury v Hugh James Solicitors (A firm)
In this case, the family of the late Mr David Hanbury brought a claim for professional negligence against Mr Hanbury’s former solicitors, Hugh James. Hugh James had acted for Mr Hanbury’s estate in a claim arising from his death from asbestos related lung cancer. Hugh James had advised the estate not to pursue the claim following receipt of an unfavourable doctor’s report. The Claimants in the professional negligence case alleged that Hugh James left out important information and evidence when instructing the medical expert and failed to notice that the expert had not considered it.
The High Court agreed with the Claimants. The Court noted that, had Hugh James not been negligent, the personal injury claim would likely have been successful. The High Court ordered that Hugh James pay the Claimants £104,000 plus interest and costs.
Manchester Building Society v Grant Thornton LLP
This was a claim against a firm of accountants that had given the claimant incorrect information concerning the accounting treatment of long-term interest rate swaps. The Court held that the accountants were not liable for the losses suffered by the claimant on closing the swaps early. This is because the claimants had retained the accountants to advise on how business activities should be treated in the accounts. They were not responsible for the financial consequences of the claimant’s business activities. This is known as the SAAMCO principle.
Ryb v Conways Chartered Surveyors
Mr Ryb brought a professional negligence claim against a surveyor. Mr Ryb was purchasing a property and instructed the surveyors to carry out a survey. The survey stated that the property was in “excellent condition both internally and externally”. However, knotweed was actually “visibly present and growing”. Mr Ryb bought the property and his gardener later spotted the knotweed. Mr Ryb sued the surveyors for failing to report the knotweed. The court found that the surveyor’s report did not reach the standard of a reasonably competent surveyor. The judge awarded Mr Ryb £50,000 in compensation. My colleague wrote about this case in an article earlier this year.
Moda International Brands Ltd v (1) Gateley LLP (2) Gateley Plc
Moda is a property development company and entered into a joint venture with another company (“Mortar”). Moda instructed Gateley LLP as their solicitors. The solicitors negligently failed to advise Moda that the terms of the deal deprived it of any profit from a part of the development. The solicitors asked the court to consider the matter on a balance of probabilities basis.
The High Court held that in a professional negligence claim for loss of opportunity which depends on the hypothetical actions of a third party, the court should evaluate the loss on the basis of “loss of chance”, even where the third party has given evidence in court. Moda was not required to prove its loss on the balance of probabilities. The Court awarded Moda 65% of the profit it sought (over £220,000).
Looking to 2020, we expect to continue to see professional negligence cases through the courts. Areas of growth are likely to be claims against personal injury lawyers and in relation to private prosecutions. Our professional negligence team are experts in claims against all kinds of professionals. Call us today for a FREE initial discussion about your professional negligence case on 0800 988 7756.