Structural engineers guilty of professional negligence in demolished house building survey

11th November 2016

When buying a house, you should be able to rely on the survey and experts’ reports to give you an accurate account of the condition of the property. However, if the inspection is not completed properly and the condition of the property is later revealed to be worse than you thought, you could have a claim for professional negligence.

This was confirmed in the recent case of Scott v EAR Sheppard Consulting Civil and Structural Engineers Ltd (2016), the Technology and Construction Court held that a firm of consulting and structural engineers had been negligent by failing to advise prospective purchasers that the property’s external walls were tilting to such a degree that industry guidance could consider the property’s condition as dangerous and requiring demolition.

Adam Pike, associate solicitor in the dispute resolution team at Ansons Solicitors in Staffordshire, reviews the case and explains its implications for dealing with building disputes and professional negligence claims.

A house had come up for sale in May 2011 and Mrs Scott, the prospective purchaser, commissioned a homebuyer’s report, which found several defects in the property’s condition and noted that there had been extensive subsidence in the past. It recommended a further structural engineering report. The claimants instructed EAR, the defendant, who advised that it required remedial works to the cost of £25,000. The claimants decided to purchase the house.

The claimants applied for planning permission for a loft conversion based on plans they had drawn up two months earlier. In February 2012 an engineering firm carried out a structural analysis for the conversion and reported that the property should be demolished. A second opinion from another firm made the same recommendation. The claimants sent the defendant a letter of claim and asked a structural engineering expert to survey the property.

The property was demolished the following year. The defendant instructed his expert after the property had been demolished and a claim was issued by the claimants.

The issues were whether:

1. the defendant was negligent in failing to advise the claimants on the tilting walls and the prospect of demolition; and

2. whether there was contributory negligence on the claimants’ part for failing to advise the defendant of the intended loft conversion before purchase, which would have triggered a full structural survey.

The claimant was successful on both issues as the court preferred the claimant’s expert evidence. The defendant’s expert had not inspected the property and had also failed to realise that the issue was with the advice that the defendant should have given to the claimants in June 2011, not the feasibility of remedy schemes, and the defendant had failed to mention the tilting walls at all.

This case is an important reminder that when dealing with building disputes or professional negligence disputes, parties should obtain legal advice early to ensure they are in the strongest position. In particular, it is important that experts’ reports are obtained before any remedial work is completed to ensure legal positions are not prejudiced.

For more advice on building disputes and professional negligence claims, contact Adam Pike at Ansons Solicitors in Cannock and Lichfield, on 01543 267 196 or email