The recent (and widely reported) case of Lejonvarn v Burgess has caused something of a stir in the professional community establishing as it does that providing advice or carrying out work for friends or acquaintances might give rise to a duty of care even though a formal contract hasn’t been entered into.
The case involved Mr and Mrs Burgess who proposed to carry out substantial works to their garden (likely to cost in the region of £200,000). Basia Lejonvarn a professional consultant and friend of the Burgess’ suggested the project could be completed within a smaller budget. Design and Project Management services for the project were provided by Basia Lejonvarn but a contract was never entered into and she didn’t ask for payment.
As the project progressed, the Burgess’ became concerned about its cost and the quality of the work. Ultimately an alternative landscape designer was engaged, remedial works were carried out and a claim was brought against Basia Lejonvarn for up to £265,000.
At first instance, the court held the professional consultant owed a duty of care in tort (i.e. there was liability even though a contract wasn’t in place). The decision was appealed and the Court of Appeal upheld the first instance decision unanimously.
The decision is fascinating from a legal perspective given the evolution of the law of tort and negligence since the ground breaking judgement in Hedley Byrne v Heller in 1963.
The court emphasised that although there was no duty to carry out services, if a party chose to perform services, it must do so with reasonable skill and care (as might be expected from an appropriately qualified and experienced professional).
The Court at first instance emphasised the case didn’t concern a piece of brief ad hoc advice of the type occasionally proffered by professional people in a less formal context. Significant amounts of money were involved and a large amount of work was carried out.
Professionals should however be mindful of the implications of providing informal advice in the light of this case. Best practice will be to ensure normal terms of business are put in place before carrying out any work or giving any advice.
If you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog please contact me.