Many of us are from time to time asked by friends and contacts if we can help them out or if we can give a ‘bit of advice;’ the natural response is to say yes of course as we are only too pleased to help where we can. However a recent case before the Court of Appeal is a reminder that you need to be careful about how far you go when helping out or giving advice because if things then go wrong you might end up in the firing line and picking up the costs as well as losing the friendship.
The case concerned an architect Mrs Lejonvarn and her two friends Peter and Lynn Burgess (Mr and Mrs B) who were carrying out some landscaping work in their garden; the work was substantial and was going to cost over £200,000. The architect told Mr and Mrs B that she thought the work could be done for less; for no fee, she secured a contractor who carried out earthworks and hard landscaping under her direction. She had intended to provide subsequent design work for which she would charge a fee but the project did not get that far because Mr and Mrs B were unhappy with the quality and progress of the work; the relationship deteriorated and they ended up employing someone else to put things right and the project was completed at a greatly increased cost. A court claim was then brought against the architect by her former friends.
The case first came before the courts last year and was then considered by the Court of Appeal earlier this year. The Court of Appeal Judges confirmed that although there was no contract between the friends, the relationship was something akin to a contractual one. The architect had assumed responsibility and therefore owed her friends a duty of care: she was not under a duty to perform the services but, as far as she chose to perform any services, she had a duty to perform them with reasonable skill and care.
Should you change your response when someone asks you for some ‘friendly advice?’ Undoubtedly this long running case has highlighted the risks, particularly to professionals, in offering informal advice however it is important to remember that this dispute involved a significant project where the services were provided over a relatively lengthy period of time and was not simply a piece of brief ad hoc advice. Nevertheless it underlines the importance of exercising care and ensuring that you distinguish between what is a social relationship and a professional one where no formal contract has been entered into.
For further help or advice, please contact Director, Johanne Spittle.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.