A renowned Oxford University archaeology professor has won damages after a law firm failed to register his interest in his mother’s property. The firm’s negligence allowed the house to be sold without his consent after he was written out of her will.
In 2003 Dr Jean Weddell set up a trust to pass her London property to her son, Professor Christopher Gosden on her death. Law firm Halliwell Landau which set up the trust, failed to register a restriction on the property’s sale at the Land Registry.
In 2007 Dr Weddell entered a civil partnership with barrister, Wendy Wood, and changed her will. When Dr Weddell died in 2013, she left nothing to her son, who subsequently discovered the house had been sold in 2010 without his knowledge.
Professor Gosden sued Halliwell Landau for negligence in allowing the house to be sold without his consent. In the High Court the judge agreed that the law firm had been negligent but ruled that Gosden had lost nothing as he would have been unable to persuade his mother to cancel the sale had he been aware it was happening.
Professor Gosden appealed. He argued that the issue was not whether his mother would have changed her mind, but rather that the solicitor’s negligence meant he had lost his power to veto the sale. The appeal judges unanimously agreed and awarded him damages against Halliwell Landau.
“This case shows how a simple administrative mistake by a solicitor can have serious knock-on effects for the firm,” said James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions. “All lawyers need to have effective risk management and put in place peer checking procedures to avoid a simple oversight turning into an expensive negligence claim.”
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