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1 May 2019

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Professional Negligence Claims Against Architects

Posted by: David Jones

When engaging in a personal or commercial construction project, you have to place your trust in a number of professional advisors. It is disappointing then when one of these advisors lets you down, delivering a standard of work that is well below what you expected.

This is especially worrying if the party in question is your architect. After all, with so much resting on their expertise, mistakes could be disastrous.

If you believe your architect has been professionally negligent, then you may have a claim. The question is, how do you go about pursuing professional negligence claims against architects?

In this article, we’re going to explore the essential elements of what makes a successful claim against architects, and how you can go about yours.

Of course, it is worth noting that every potential claim is unique, so you should always seek legal advice specific to your circumstances.

Is a Duty Owed to You?

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If you spend thousands of pounds on an architect, you expect to be provided with a high-quality service. This is known as a ‘duty of care’ and is a legal obligation on the part of the architect to provide a standard of care and diligence.

The exact details of what this duty of care covers should be laid out in your contract. If you don’t have a contract in place, then don’t worry, as a duty of care likely still exists.

When considering whether your architecture owes you a duty of care, take some time to review what you instructed them to do. If for example, you asked an architect to only produce designs, then their duty would extend to these being accurate – but not to any failure in the quality of the resulting work (assuming this did not arise from an issue with the designs).

If however, you instructed the architect to fully project manage the development, then their duty of care would be more far-reaching.

Has the Duty Been Breached?

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Once you’ve established that your architect owes you a duty of care and, more specifically, the scope of that duty, the question now becomes whether it has been breached?

A breach can come in many forms, so it is impossible to give a definitive answer to what a breach may look like. For this, you’ll need to instruct a solicitor to help you.

That said, below are some common examples of duty of care breaches. If any of these ring a bell, it could be time to explore a potential claim.

  • Errors in the design: It goes without saying that your architect should provide accurate designs as not doing so will likely lead to additional costs or delays. Where a design is experimental, there may be a continuing duty to inspect the design and make any updates required as the build progresses.
  • Failure to get appropriate planning permissions: If a new property or amendment to an existing property is built without the correct planning permission, it can be required to be demolished. Obviously, this can lead to significant loss.
  • Use of sub-standard building materials: Where an architect is managing the construction, the materials used should adhere to safety specifications to avoid the risk of harm.
  • Errors in preparing the bill of quantities: This is typically a job undertaken by a quantity surveyor but can also be completed by an architect, who will be held to the same standards. Errors in quantity can result in under or over-spend and associated delays.
  • Mismanagement of contractors: If an architect uses sub-contractors as part of the construction but fails to monitor their work, the architect could be liable for any issues that arise.
  • Mismanaged costs: If your architect is responsible for the management of your project and fails to deliver on time or budget, there may be a breach in their duty of care, depending on the severity of the budgetary miscalculation.

These are just a few examples of what could constitute a duty of care breach from an architect. However, it’s important to stress that breaches come in all shapes and sizes. In the end then, if you have a sinking feeling that something’s not quite right, your first step should be to seek legal advice specific to you.

Have You Suffered Loss?

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Just because something has not been delivered to your satisfaction does not mean you can pursue a professional negligence claim against an architect.

To do that you have to prove you have suffered a loss as a result of negligence. If you’re struggling to quantify a specific loss, consider the position you would have been in had the architect not been negligent? If you would have been in a better position, you’ve likely suffered a loss. If the architect’s actions have made no difference, perhaps not.

At this point, it’s important to introduce a second duty; the ‘duty to mitigate’. This time, the duty applies to the potential claimant and requires them to take reasonable steps to mitigate any potential damages.

So, say you want to claim because a mistake in the designs has left a gap above your window, which is now letting in rain and damaging your floor. Your duty to mitigate means you need to take reasonable steps to reduce the damage of this negligence.

You could not, for example, let the rain keep pouring in to increase your loss and seek further damages. In fact, this may hurt your claim in the future.

You can, however, include any losses you incurred in mitigating the damage in your claim. That means repairs don’t have to leave you out of pocket.

Can You Claim Damages?

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If you’ve identified that your architect has breached their duty of care and it has resulted in a loss on your part, then you may be able to claim for damages from them or their insurer.

However, don’t get ahead of yourself with regards to the amount of damages you can claim. Damages are not intended to be compensation.

Instead, they are meant to place you in the position you would have been, had your architect not been negligent. They are not designed to put you in a better position than you would have been.

If you think you have a claim, you should seek the support of a solicitor and document the legal basis of your claim and the losses you’ve incurred. This can then be sent to the architect, who will either accept your claim or send a letter of response indicating whether they intend to defend the claim and their legal basis for doing so.

In most cases, claims are settled before they reach court. If this is unavoidable, your solicitor should advise you further on what to expect.

Be aware also that you do not have unlimited time to make your claim. Instead, you have six years from the date the constituting the negligence. If you do not know when the negligence took place, then you have three years from the date you became aware of it. Finally, there is an overall cap of 15 years from the date of the negligence for you to start your claim. After this point, you’ll be unable to bring a claim, regardless of when you noticed it.

Conclusion

Architects play a fundamental role in construction projects so the impact of their negligence can resonate deeply.

For that reason, it is important that, where mistakes and errors are made, the proper steps are taken to ensure you’re not left out of pocket.

If you believe you have a negligence claim to pursue against an architect, get in touch to learn more about the next steps you should take.

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David is a Partner and head of the Litigation team. He is consistently ranked in the Legal 500 for his tenacious problem solving and business acumen, acting in complex, high value disputes for successful entrepreneurs and corporates.

David Jones - Partner

To discuss how Glaisyers can assist you contact David Jones on David.Jones@glaisyers.com or via 0161 832 4666.

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