Construction Law: Court of Appeal upholds decision on architects' non-contractual duties by Seb Oram

The Court of Appeal has held in Burgess v. Lejonvarn [2017] EWCA Civ 254 that an architect and project manager who supplied her professional services to friends, free of charge and without entering into a contract, nonetheless owed them a duty in tort to exercise reasonable skill and care. On the facts, the parties had understood the context of their relationship to be professional, not informal or social. The duty arose on the basis of an assumption of responsibility, because the architect voluntarily tendered skilled professional services in circumstances where she knew that the Claimants would rely on the proper performance of those services.

The Court of Appeal recognised two important points about the scope of that duty. First, in contrast to a contractual duty, the tortious duty is not a duty to provide such services. The architect did not have to provide any such services, but to the extent that she did so she owed a duty to exercise reasonable skill and care in the provision of those services. Secondly, there is no reason in principle why an architect cannot assume responsibility for a duty of periodic inspection of the builder’s work. That is so even if the builder himself owes no common law duty of care in respect of his work.

Seb Oram, led by David Sears Q.C., acted for the successful respondents. To view his profile click here.