Claim against solicitors by disappointed litigant – Dowling v Bennett Griffin  EWCA Civ 1545 – solicitors acted for claimant in negligence claim against architect – uninsured architect unable to pay most of claimant’s legal costs and damages – solicitors not negligent for not applying for court order requiring architect to provide evidence of insurance.
Litigation can be expensive, especially if an opponent fights the case. The winning party obviously wants to recover his legal costs, and any damages (or debt) the losing party is required to pay. But what if the loser can’t pay? When that happens, disappointed litigants sometimes look to blame their solicitors, as happened in the recently reported case of Dowling v Bennett Griffin  EWCA Civ 1545.
Claim against architect
Briefly, the facts were as follows. In 2001 the claimants employed an architect in connection with a development project in Hove. Unfortunately the project did not go according to plan and the parties fell out.
In 2003 the architect sued the claimants for his unpaid fees. At the trial in 2005, the claimants’ were successful in their defence and counter-claim for losses caused by the architect’s negligence.
The architect’s insurers were not notified of the claim until 2006, when they refused to cover it because the architect, amongst other things, did not notify them of the counter-claim when he should have. The architect himself was unable to pay the full amount due, leaving the claimants significantly out of pocket.
Claim against solicitors
The claimants sought to blame their solicitors, Bennett Griffin, who they said should have applied to the court by 2004 for an order requiring the architect to provide evidence of insurance. They argued that, had the solicitors done so, the architect’s insurers would have been notified of the counter-claim much sooner and so would not have been able to refuse to pay out.
The court’s decision
The High Court and the Court of Appeal considered that:
- the solicitors had not been negligent, in part because in 2004 the court had no power to make an order requiring a party to disclose insurance details in that type of case; and
- even if an order had been made, it would have made no difference to the final outcome (the claimants would still have been out of pocket) because the insurers would still have been entitled to refuse to cover the claim.
Although the claim against solicitors was not successful on the facts of this case, in different circumstances it is possible for disappointed litigants to recover some or all of their losses if their solicitors have been negligent.
If you have lost out as a result of a solicitors mistake, and would like to speak to a qualified, experienced solicitor who specialises in negligence claims against solicitors, please contact us now by:
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