Have you ever wondered what would happen if your local friendly solicitor gives you free advice which you follow only to find out it was legally wrong and you suffer a financial loss as a consequence? You may think that without a formal agreement with the solicitor there is unlikely to be a duty of care and therefore cannot be a breach of duty leading to a professional negligence claim.

The perils of providing free advice to friends was highlighted last year in the Court of Appeal in the case of BASIA LEJONVARN v (1) PETER BURGESS (2) LYNN BURGESS [2017].

Mr & Mrs Burgess decided to have substantial improvements made to their sloping back garden but were unhappy with the quote they obtained for the job. Enter their close friend, Mrs Lejonvarn, a structural architect, who Mr & Mrs Burgess consulted about the work.

Mrs Lejonvarn found Polish contactors to carry out the work but this was not to the standard required by Burgesses and a bitter argument broke out and the contractors were ordered off the job. The gardener who provided the original quote was employed and completed the work. His quote had been £150,000 and the final cost was £265,000.

Unhappy at the extra expense, the Burgesses brought a claim against Mrs Lejonvarn. She said that the work was carried out on a gratuitous basis and she was no more than a “conduit or facilitator” between her friends and the builders.

Hearing the case Judge Nielsen ruled that the Burgesses were in fact Mrs Lejonvarn’s clients and she had provided services on a professional footing despite there being no written contract and there had been no discussion of her fees. The Judge’s reasoning for concluding it was appropriate to find there was a duty of care to prevent economic loss owed by Mrs Lejonvarn to the Burggesses was:

  1. This was not a case of brief ad hoc advice but was a significant project which was being approached in a professional way.
  2. The services were provided over a relatively lengthy period of time and involved considerable input and commitment on both sides.
  3. The services involved significant commercial expenditure on the part of the Burgesses.
  4. Neither party saw this as akin to a favour given without legal responsibility.
  5. Although there was no consideration Mrs Lejonvarn did hope to receive payment for the soft design services that would later be provided and it was also important to the growth of her new business that she provided a good service.
  6. Mr and Mrs Lejonvarn had been the recipients of benefits provided by the Burgesses beyond the normal bounds of friendship and the provision of gratuitous services by her should be seen in that light.
  7. The losses allegedly sustained are of a type which would be expected to flow from a failure to competently perform the services which Mrs Lejonvarn was apparently providing.

The Judge’s decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal and illustrates that professionals, including solicitors, may inadvertently place themselves in a situation where a duty of care is owed to the recipient of gratuitous advice.

 

If you think you have been caused loss as a result of relying on a solicitors advice where there was no apparent retainer – formal solicitor/client agreement set out in writing – then Jordans can help. Contact our Professional Negligence team free on 0330 300 1103 or request a call back and one of our team will contact you.


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