Negligent architect – design – plans – renovation – refurbishment – structural problems – remedial works – repair costs – Farrer v Wiles  EWCA Civ 1511 .
England’s second highest court, the Court of Appeal, has recently dismissed an appeal by a negligent architect’s insurers in which they disputed the amount he was ordered to pay a dissatisfied client.
In 2002, Mr Noel Farrer (“the Architect”) was instructed by Mrs Wiles (“the Client”) to prepare plans to redesign the layout of a 200-year old coach house which she had recently bought in Slapton, Devon.
Mrs Wiles showed him a surveyor’s report (from a Mr Stanton) which she had obtained at time of purchase, which identified structural defects, particularly to walls, the roof and floors, and which recommended obtaining an engineer’s report. Mrs Wiles explained that Mr Farrer’s plans needed to take into account the structural defects.
Mr Farrer prepared the plans, for which he was paid just over £2,000, and said nothing about the surveyor’s recommendation for an engineer’s report. Refurbishment works were then carried out by a local builder at a cost of around £35,000.
When Mrs Wiles tried to sell the house in 2007, 2 agreed sales fell through after the purchasers’ surveyors had carried out inspections. So Mrs Wiles called in a structural surveyor (Mr Bolderson) who, like Mr Stanton, found structural problems with the roof and floors, and recommended remedial structural works.
After denying liability before court proceedings were issued, in the High Court action the architect admitted he had failed in a number of respects, but claimed that this had not caused any loss. In support of his position, he relied on the evidence of his building surveyor expert, Mr Isaacs, whose view was that:
- before the property was renovated in 2002, it did not suffer from structural defects;
- no structural works were required in 2002 because the property was not a defective building;
- Mr Farrer’s design did not cause any deterioration to the structural condition of the property after April 2003, when the works were completed;
- the property is not a defective building, the renovation works have not harmed it structurally and accordingly Ms Wiles has suffered no damage.
Mr Farrer also argued that it would cost no more, or not significantly more, to address the structural problems in 2012 than it would have done in 2002.
The judge found that had the architect done his job properly in 2002 and recommended that Mrs Wiles should obtain an engineer’s report, she would have required the structural problems to be remedied before renovating the property. He rejected Mr Isaacs evidence, which he said “flies in the face of all of the….evidence” namely the opinions of Mr Stanton, Mr Bolderson and Mrs Wiles’ expert in the case, Mr Paterson.
In an apparent about-turn, at the end of the trial the architect agreed that the cost of remedial works in 2012 would exceed the original cost in 2002. The judge allowed Mrs Wiles to recover most but not all of the agreed amounts claimed, which included amounts for repairing the roof and floors, damp-proofing, professional fees, loss of rental (the house was used as a holiday let before the defects came to light in 2007) and wasted expenditure when she tried to sell the property.
The essence of architect’s appeal was that the judge was wrong to award Mrs Wiles most of the losses she claimed because some of her expert evidence (about causation) was rejected. The appeal judges did not agree – although some of Mr Paterson’s views were not accepted, they considered that it did not affect the validity of the losses she was awarded. The appeal, which they described as being “founded on a fallacy”, was dismissed.
That the appeal was made seems surprising for several reasons, not least that it seems clear from the appeal judgment, and from the fact that some of the items of loss were disallowed, that the High Court judge had considered the key issues of causation and loss without any obvious error.
The case is a useful reminder however that often the main battleground in a professional negligence action is not, as many might expect, whether the professional was at fault but whether the claimant has suffered any loss as a result.
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