Architect faces negligence claim despite giving services for free

Published: 3 May 2017

Category: Legal News

Businesses and professionals need to take care when giving their services free to friends because they could find themselves facing a negligence claim if things go wrong.

That is what happened to an architect in a recent case that has gone all the way to the Court of Appeal.

The issue arose after the architect agreed to help her friends with a project to landscape their garden. For no fee, she secured a contractor, who carried out the earthworks and hard landscaping.

The architect intended to provide subsequent design work for which she would charge a fee.

However, the project did not get that far because the friends were unhappy with the quality and progress of the work. They brought proceedings claiming that the architect was responsible for the defective work.

A preliminary hearing was ordered to determine whether they could claim against the architect considering that she had given her services for free.

The judge determined that although there was no contract as such, the architect still owed a common law duty of care because she possessed a special skill and had assumed a responsibility on which her friends had relied.

He held that she had acted as project manager, not as a mere facilitator between the contractor and the respondents. The fact that the services had been free did not mean that they were informal or social.

The Court of Appeal has upheld that decision.  It said the judge had been entitled to conclude that there had been an assumption of responsibility and that it was appropriate, fair, just and reasonable for a duty of care to arise.

The decision means that the architect’s former friends can now pursue a claim against her to try to recover damages.

Please contact Matthew Sigsworth in our Dispute Resolution Team if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of professional negligence.