Stephen Illingworth

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Not Entirely a Case of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”

Business Weekly / 24 April 2021

It did not take me long after becoming a lawyer to realise I really did not want to be a litigation lawyer, dealing in tricky cases. (So, I became a property lawyer instead, and got embroiled in red tape!)

I do read quite a few of the legal cases and one recently, Valley Brook Investments Ltd and another v Huam Ltd [2020] caught my eye. It involved an architect being sued by a purchaser of a property in Crewe near Manchester. The purchaser was interested in buying an office block, and was looking to convert it into flats but a lot depended on how many flats could be formed. He got in touch with the architect who acted for the then owner, discussed this with him and got some drawings from the architect which the architect had previously prepared for the then owner. This made the purchaser think the development could work for the price he was being asked to pay and so enabled him to decide to purchase the office block.

It transpired, however, that the drawings were wrong and showed the property as 30% bigger than it actually was! Naturally, he sued the architect, but the architect tried to get out of it by saying that actually the property had been bought by the purchaser’s limited company which was not in existence at the time the drawings were sent to the purchaser.  I, a mere property lawyer, would have thought that this “nice little” technicality would get him off the hook.

But what do I know? No, the court held that this was not a good defence as the architect knew that the purchaser was going to purchase the property using a limited company and therefore, he could not use this little technicality to wriggle out of liability. In fact, the purchaser had told him he was going to form a new company to buy the property, and of course the new company was in existence when he eventually bought the property.

At first glance this seems unfair on the architect as one would think that a nice little technicality like that should have got him out of liability (my opinion but what do I know!) but the judge (bless him!) decided that the architect should reasonably have foreseen that the property would have been purchased by a limited company even if it wasn’t actually in existence when the drawings were sent to the purchaser.  This was fair, really, as the architect had made a mistake which the purchaser had  relied on, and which caused loss to the purchaser.

What it means, if you’re a professional, is that you should mark your drawings and reports as only being able to be relied upon by your actual client at the time. Otherwise you may well find that other people can rely on your work even though they do not pay you, and you had not actually thought about them when doing your work.

However, you might be one of those unfortunate few who have bought a property with problems and cannot get any remedy from the seller based on something inaccurate that you’ve been told. Here is a case that might help you seek compensation from the person that actually caused your problem. You might be like the purchaser in the Crewe case and find that your flat is smaller than you expected it to be. Hopefully, unlike Mick Jagger, you might be able to get some satisfaction after all.



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