All posts tagged: professional negligence cases

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Professional negligence case against architects succeeds

Case note: Christian Education Ministries – Qld Ltd v Thomson Adsett Pty Ltd [2015] QDC 292

Professional negligence claims against architects – Architects, Engineers & Surveyors – Negligence – Breach of Contract – Professional Negligence – Architect’s Negligence Cases – Architect’s Negligence Examples – Liability Claims Examples

The Design Brief

Thomson Adsett Pty Ltd (Architects) were retained to provide architectural services for the construction of a new multi-purpose assembly hall/sports building (Hall) at the Australian Christian College Moreton at Caboolture (School).

The School claimed that it gave an express instruction to the Architects that the Hall was to have a full-sized basketball court. The dimensions of a full-sized basketball court are a minimum length of 32 metres, a minimum width of 19 metres and a minimum height of 7 metres.

The School claimed that it clarified with the Architects, on several occasions, that the Hall would contain a full-sized basketball court. However, conflicting instructions were given by the School’s principal, Mr Woodward and by the CEO of Christian Education Ministries, Mr Fyfe.

The Architects said that Mr Woodward told them that formal basketball games would not be played in the hall because the School only had 60 students from Prep to Year 12. The Architects said that the design was made to keep the cost of construction controlled for the School.

In an email to the Architects the CEO said the Hall should be, ‘large enough for an indoor volleyball or basketball game’. The drawing that was provided to the School had the words, ‘full-sized basketball court’ on it. However, the brief contained no reference to any affiliations, documents or specific use guidelines such as International Basketball Federation Basketball Rules 2008 Basketball Equipment or Basketball Queensland.

The Architects did not clarify their instructions from the School in writing.

The School used the plans designed by the Architects for the construction of the Hall by a builder. When the Hall was partly constructed, the School discovered that the height of the roof was only 4.4 or 4.2 metres. When the School discovered the problem, it instructed the Architects to redesign the roof, to increase the height to 7 metres, where the basketball court was to be located.

The Issue

The School’s case was that even if conflicting instructions were given to the Architects, the Architects breached their retainer or were negligent for failing to clarify the School’s instructions before making the design. There was no dispute that the Architects accepted that Mr Fyfe had authority to make decisions over the School’s principal, Mr Woodward.

The Expert Evidence

The School called Alan Jordan, Architect, as their expert at trial. Mr Jordan’s evidence was that critical factors are usually confirmed in writing by architects.  Mr Jordan’s evidence was that the Architects’ actions in failing to clarify the instructions from the School in writing, led to the School paying a premium to get what they had initially asked for.

The Architects called Scott Peabody, Architect, as their expert at trial. Mr Peabody’s evidence was that the Architects prepared plans that were consistent with the brief provided by the School. He also noted that there was no reference in the brief to industry specific guidelines concerning the specifications the basketball court should meet.

The Judgment

In a judgment delivered in the District Court on 26 November 2015, the Court found as follows:

  1. The School had given an express instruction to the Architects for the design to include a ‘full-sized basketball court’.
  2. Any comments made on behalf of the School to the effect that it would not play formal basketball games were superseded by the instructions from the CEO of the Christian Education Ministries, Mr Fyfe, that the School required a full-sized basketball court.
  3. The Architects failed to follow the express instructions given by the School.
  4. The Architects were negligent and breached their retainer. The Court awarded damages in favour of the School in the sum of $505,004, including interest of $138,738.04.

Considerations

Here, the School succeeded against the Architects because:

  • findings of fact about the instructions provided were resolved in favour of the School; and
  • the Architects could not effectively defend the case where they failed to clarify conflicting instructions of the School in writing, before making the design.

This case will be of interest to architects, engineers and surveyors, as well as those managing professional indemnity claims against these professionals.

For more information about professional indemnity claims and disputes, see our PROFESSIONAL NEGLIGENCE SERVICES.

BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION for advice and information about your professional negligence problem, by calling (07) 3067 3025 or contact us online.

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Kate DenningProfessional negligence case against architects succeeds
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On appeal: QSC marine engine repairs decision

Case note: Ireland v B & M Outboard Repairs [2015] QSC 84

Mechanic Negligence Lawyer – Mechanic Negligence Cases – Professional Negligence Cases – Proof of Negligence – Civil Liability Act Qld

Facts

The Plaintiff, Colin Ireland, brought a claim for neck and psychiatric injuries from an explosion on 10 April 2006.

B & M Outboard Repairs (Defendant) performed the maintenance, repair and modification of outboard marine engines. In September 2004, the Defendant replaced the fuel lines of the Plaintiff’s Haines Hunter (Vessel) and installed an electric fuel pump in the battery compartment.  After the Defendants performed the work the Plaintiff used the Vessel a few times without incident.

In March 2006, the Plaintiff received an enquiry from a prospective purchaser and set about putting the Vessel in a seaworthy condition. The Plaintiff and his son performed some work on the Vessel.

Some repair work was required to the leg of the outboard motor. Mr Brian Keech, a long term friend of the Plaintiff and a qualified mechanic, assisted with the fitting and repairing of the leg to the outboard motor. Mr Keech inspected the battery compartments and told the Plaintiff it was dangerous to have the fuel lines, electric fuel pump and battery compartment in close proximity to one another, because of the risk of a spark.

The Plaintiff took the Vessel to Port Hinchinbrook, to launch it for a seaworthy trial. Once the Vessel was in the water, the Plaintiff reached into the Vessel, turned the ignition key and described ‘a ‘whoosh’ and some flames which forced him to recoil backwards whereupon he fell into shallow water on the back of his neck’.

The Plaintiff suffered a psychiatric injury and a cervical spine injury.  However, the documentary evidence suggested there was no explicit reporting of cervical spine symptoms until 17 months after the incident.

The Plaintiff was head of the Life Church, Townsville. The Church agreed to continue to pay the Plaintiff 100% of his salary, on his agreement to re-pay 50% of it, in the event he was awarded compensation. With this arrangement, the Plaintiff was effectively overpaid an amount of $300,000 in wages for his services to the Church, as at the date of trial.

Issues

Liability and quantum were in issue. The Defendant challenged the Plaintiff on the cause of the explosion, his reporting of the incident, as well as the nature and extent of his injuries. The Defendant disputed that it had breached the contract with the Plaintiff to perform the work or that they breached the duty of care owed.  The case also considered several defences available under the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld).

Findings

In a judgment delivered 8 April 2015, the Court found as follows:

  1. The Defendants recommended and installed a new system for the pumping of and delivery of fuel to the outboard engine and in a relatively confined space installed the electric pump close to potential ignition sources. A consequential fire and explosion was foreseeable and the risk of personal injury from such an event was foreseeable. The Defendants should be held responsible for the harm suffered by the Plaintiff.
  2. The Plaintiff did not voluntarily assume an obvious risk, was not engaged in a dangerous recreational activity and was not contributorily negligent, despite the warning from Mr Keech.
  3. The Plaintiff suffered a serious and disabling psychiatric illness. Damages were assessed in the sum of $703,721. This amount included $351,000 for past economic loss, calculated on the basis that the Plaintiff had suffered a 45%-55% loss of earning capacity.

Appeal

An appeal was filed in the Court on 5 May 2015 by the Defendant. The appeal was discontinued by agreement in July 2015.

BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION for advice and information about a personal injury matter by calling (07) 3067 3025 or contact us online.

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Kate DenningOn appeal: QSC marine engine repairs decision
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