Advice is only worth as much as you pay for it, and a recent case highlights the pitfalls of using professionals without doing so on proper footing. It is established law that anyone who receives advice from a professional – accountant/stock broker/doctor or lawyer – and reasonably relies on that advice can bring a claim for negligence if that advice was wrong and caused loss. That test is based on legal remedies for negligence. What you need to understand is that proving such a negligence claim is far harder – and likely far more expensive – than if all of this had been wrapped up in a contract for those services. The level of compensation you might expect for breach of contract is also higher than compensation for negligence. A good example of this was recently reported. Mr & Mrs Burgess wanted to landscape their property. Their next door neighbour and good friend Mrs Lejonvarn just happened to be an architect with experience in landscape conversions and was happy to lend a hand to the scheme. Things didn’t go well as there were delays, overruns and the sky-rocketing of the budget. The Burgesses instructed lawyers and went to court for £265,000, which is the amount they say the transformation of their garden cost them over and above what it would have done had Mrs Lejonvarn never been involved. Mrs Lejonvarn claimed her help was always informal, sporadic and minimal and had never been anything close to assuming responsibility for the job. Mr & Mrs Burgess thought otherwise. Their claim had to be one in professional negligence. If the Burgesses had done things properly from the start they would have had a contract under which all of the mistakes could be clearly measured, the loss calculated and the blame apportioned. Doing this on the cheap runs a significant risk of spending huge amounts on legal costs to prove what a court might decide simply does not exist. Mrs Lejonvarn had not even discussed a fee for her time. A contract for professional services gives the client another significant benefit – insurance. A universal truth is that insurers will always look to refuse claims where those who seek compensation cannot produce a contract for the services they claim they expected to receive – albeit received negligently or not at all. The court eventually found that Mrs Lejonvarn was acting as a project manager and was – or should have been – well aware that the Burgesses were relying on her to perform those services properly. Easy to allege, but it probably cost them over £70,000 in legal fees to prove. It is always a lot better for everyone involved to keep relationships either social, professional or contractual…so please don’t ask us for “mates rates” to give advice. Griffin Law is a dispute resolution firm comprising innovative, proactive, tenacious and commercially-minded lawyers. We pride ourselves on our close client relationships, which are uniquely enhanced by our transparent fee guarantee and a commitment to share the risks of litigation.  If you have any specific questions regarding a property dispute, please email or call 01732 52 59 23.


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