Duty of care when performing gratuitous services for friends

29 January, 2016
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

The recent decision of the TCC in the case of Burgess and another v Lejonvarn will sound alarm bells for professionals performing services for friends.

In what the court described as a “cautionary tale”, the professional consultant had performed various gratuitous services relating to her friends’ landscape gardening project. The project did not go smoothly, the relationship broke down and her former friends claimed for the cost of remedial works.

The court decided that, whilst the professional consultant had no contractual liability because there had been no offer and acceptance or consideration, she owed a duty of care in tort that covered several design and project management services. Importantly, the court confirmed that a professional designer can owe a duty of care in respect of pure economic loss on a construction project and that such liability is not restricted to advice given by the professional consultant, but can also cover other services that it performs.

This highlights a risk common to any professional who offers informal advice. However, it was emphasised that “this was not a piece of brief ad hoc advice of the type occasionally proffered by professional people in a less formal context”. This was a significant project approached in a professional way and involving considerable commitment on both sides and she had hoped to receive payment for services that might be necessary later in the project.

Professionals should be aware that, even when advising “informally” liability may arise for any negligence and need to take care.

The recent decision of the TCC in the case of Burgess and another v Lejonvarn will sound alarm bells for professionals performing services for friends.

In what the court described as a “cautionary tale”, the professional consultant had performed various gratuitous services relating to her friends’ landscape gardening project. The project did not go smoothly, the relationship broke down and her former friends claimed for the cost of remedial works.

The court decided that, whilst the professional consultant had no contractual liability because there had been no offer and acceptance or consideration, she owed a duty of care in tort that covered several design and project management services. Importantly, the court confirmed that a professional designer can owe a duty of care in respect of pure economic loss on a construction project and that such liability is not restricted to advice given by the professional consultant, but can also cover other services that it performs.

This highlights a risk common to any professional who offers informal advice. However, it was emphasised that “this was not a piece of brief ad hoc advice of the type occasionally proffered by professional people in a less formal context”. This was a significant project approached in a professional way and involving considerable commitment on both sides and she had hoped to receive payment for services that might be necessary later in the project.

Professionals should be aware that, even when advising “informally” liability may arise for any negligence and need to take care.