A warning to professional consultants offering informal advice

A recent Technology and Construction Court judgment highlights a risk common to any professional who offers informal advice. In what the court described as a “cautionary tale”, the professional consultant had performed various gratuitous services relating to her friends’ landscape gardening project. The project did not go smoothly, the relationship broke down and her former friends claimed for the cost of remedial works.

The court decided that the professional consultant owed a duty of care that covered several design and project management services. The court confirmed that a professional designer can owe a duty of care in respect of pure economic loss on a construction project. It also held that such liability is not restricted to advice given by the professional consultant, but can also cover other services that it performs.

However, the court emphasised that “this was not a piece of brief ad hoc advice of the type occasionally proffered by professional people in a less formal context”. This was a significant project approached in a professional way, with services provided over a relatively long period and involving considerable commitment on both sides. In addition, the professional consultant had hoped to receive payment for services that might be necessary later in the project.