Court ruling on Devon conveyancing negligence
Slee Blackwell’s Emma Slade, a partner who specialises in professional negligence law, looks at a recent Devon conveyancing negligence case.
Buying a house is one of the top five most stressful life events, but having survived running the gamut of the conveyancing process, what is more galling than finding that a new link road is going to be constructed close to your new home?
This was the situation that homeowner Victoria Harry encountered when she purchased her new home in Devon. A conveyancing negligence claim was therefore brought by her against lawyers Curtis Law LLP t/s CWC who handled the transaction on her behalf.
During a two day hearing in Plymouth County Court, the court was told that Ms Harry paid £695 + VAT (plus disbursements) for the conveyancing to purchase of her new-build property. To add to the pressure, Ms Harry insisted that CWC complete the purchase within 28 days so she would get a further £2,995 discount from the developer.
CWC managed to undertake standard searches, including a Local Search. Unfortunately, the Local Search failed to mention the link road project. If it had done, undoubtedly the result of this case would have been different, but it didn’t and so of course, CWC could not report back to Ms Harry on it. Ms Harry nevertheless tried to argue that additional searches and enquiries should have been made.
The Court disagreed. It would appear that the main consideration for the Court was the value of the retainer. With such low cost work, it automatically limits the scope of the retainer. As the barrister representing the lawyers advised,
“paying less or even nothing for a professional service does not alter the standard of the work that must but completed… However, it was successfully argued that the low fee and strict limitation of the retainer circumscribed the work that had to be done. [The judge] found that there was no obligation on CWC’s part to advise on matters which were features of the wider development as opposed to this particular property.”
Interestingly, although the time limit was considered to be “tantamount to bullying” and would not have allowed CWC the time to carry out more extensive enquiries, the Court said that it did not make any difference as there was no requirement for CWC to carry out such extensive enquiries. Having said that though, a time limit shouldn’t be an excuse not to undertake required work: if the work cannot be carried out within the allotted time span, the client should be informed.
Whilst the outcome of this Devon conveyancing negligence case would most certainly have been different had the information on the Local Land Charges Search been complete, it does highlight the fact that the services of a solicitor are not unfettered – a case of getting what you pay for – such that if there are specific expectations of your solicitor, you should discuss it with them in advance so it is clear to everyone what is required.