Alleged Negligence of Quantity Surveyors in Building Dispute
Chartered quantity surveyors, with expertise in dispute resolution, were accused by their clients of professional negligence.
The claimants owned a freehold property in Beaconsfield. They had been involved in a building project which, unhappily, ended in arbitration with their building contractor over a disputed final account. The defendant firm of quantity surveyors acted for the building owners. The arbitration resulted in an award in favour of the builder.
The owners sued the quantity surveyors in contract and in tort, alleging negligence in the provision of its professional services. The quantity surveyors, they said, had overestimated the strength of their case, had not advised properly in relation to the settlement of the dispute or on the question of costs.
A preliminary point arose on the use of expert evidence. The quantity surveyors wanted to call expert evidence from a quantity surveyor with experience of dispute resolution. This was to help the court assess the standards that a client should reasonably expect from a professional acting in similar circumstances. Not necessary said the owners: the quantity surveyors here had held themselves out as being at least as well qualified to conduct construction law cases as a qualified legal professional. The standard to be applied to it, as a quantity surveyor experienced in dispute services and acting as surveyor advocate, was equivalent to that to be expected of a firm of solicitors with experience in that area. Expert evidence was not generally necessary in a case relating to the negligence of solicitors and it should not be allowed here.
The court disagreed. A court should be slow, it said, to find a professionally qualified man guilty of a breach of his duty of skill and care towards a client, or third party, without evidence from those within the same profession as to the standard expected on the facts of the case and the failure of the professionally qualified man to measure up to that standard.