There has been a recent court case which went to the Court of Appeal where a professional was found legally responsible even though her advice and skills were provided free of charge.
The lady in question was an architect (Lejonvarn) who provided project management services relating to garden landscaping works to some friends (the Burgesses).
Lejonvarn appointed a contractor to undertake certain of the works and the Burgesses alleged that the works were defective. They were also concerned about the project management and cost control of the project and held Lejonvarn responsible. They sued Lejonvarn for the additional costs incurred to complete the project which amounted to more than £250,000
The court decided that no contract had been entered into between the parties but that Lejonvarn did owe her friends a duty of care under the law of tort. The reasoning behind this was that the advice offered went beyond ad hoc advice and there had been an intention to charge for more detailed design work in the later stages of the project. A special skill was being exercised by the Lejonvarn as a professional upon which the Burgesses relied.
The judge referred to this case as “something of a cautionary tale”. However, the court did suggest that the same decision would not necessarily be arrived at for brief ad hoc advice given by a professional informally.
Whilst it would probably not be practical to enter into a written contract every time free professional advice was offered, it might be prudent to set out in writing that such advice is given without liability.
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