An architect who provided free services to her neighbours has seen off a negligence claim in court. The former friends fell out over a garden landscaping project which led to a long-running legal battle. Earlier court hearings had established that the architect owed her neighbours a duty of care, despite there being no contract and no charge for her services.
In a highly critical court ruling, the judge described the negligence claim as ‘threadbare’ and as ‘offending common sense’.
Mr & Mrs Burgess and Mrs Lejonvarn had been neighbours for many years. Mrs Lejonvarn agreed to help her friends with a major garden redesign, free of charge. She prepared designs and provided project management services, including supervising and inspecting the contractor’s works.
The project did not go smoothly and the previously good relationship quickly soured. Mrs Lejonvarn was replaced by another garden designer. The total cost of the project soared and the Burgesses tried to claim the £265,000 increase in costs from Mrs Lejonvarn.
In an earlier court hearing, Mr & Mrs Burgess successfully established that Mrs Lejonvarn owed them a duty of care, despite there being no formal contract and no payment for the work. However, their claim for damages for alleged professional negligence quickly unravelled in court.
The judge said that Mr & Mrs Burgess failed to identify any drawings which had caused defective construction or any negligent advice. He said much of their evidence was of ‘limited relevance’. He also said their claim for negligent design and project management lacked ‘credibility and conviction’. Finally, he criticised their ‘global claim’ for the cost overruns and said they should have tried to identify what losses, if any, were incurred as a result of the alleged negligence.
“This was a pretty spectacular unravelling of a contentious negligence claim,” said James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions. “This case has been in the spotlight because it underlined that a duty of care could exist in the absence of a fee and more formal arrangements, and it should be noted that the present decision does not change this. It also remains a salutary lesson about the risks of blurring the lines between friendship and work.”
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