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Surveys – a reminder of the scope of reliance


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Summary: In Scott v EAR Sheppard [2016], the TCC revisited the parameters of the duty of care owed by professional consultants, in a case where a structural engineer was held to have come to a conclusion that was outside the “range permissible” for a consultant exercising reasonable skill and care.


The defendant surveyor was engaged by the claimant purchasers to inspect and report on the structural condition of a property which the claimants intended to buy. The surveyor duly carried out the inspection and submitted his report and the claimants purchased the property. Subsequently the claimants undertook a roof conversion, but Building Control quickly halted the works because of the property’s structural condition. Following further engineering advice and surveys, the claimants were advised to demolish the property because it was in such a bad structural state. The property was demolished in July 2013 and a new house constructed on the site.

The claimants then brought a professional negligence claim against the defendant, alleging that he had failed to exercise reasonable skill and care in both his inspection and survey and arguing that they would not have bought the property had the defendant advised that it should be demolished. In response, the defendant argued that the claimants were contributorily negligent because they had failed to inform him that they intended to carry out works to the property, including a roof conversion.


The Court ruled in favour of the claimants, holding that the defendant had acted negligently in that the conclusions of its survey report fell outside the “range permissible” for a structural engineer exercising reasonable skill and care. The Court dismissed the defendant’s allegation of contributory negligence, on the basis that the claimants had not decided to undertake structural works to the roof until after they had purchased the property.

Interesting takeaways

  • The Court noted that, since the defendant’s professional reputation was at stake after 50 years in practice, this was a case that was crying out to be resolved in mediation. Whilst it is not compulsory, the judge considered it regrettable that mediation had not been tried.
  • For consultants, a key point to take away from this case is that any survey you produce may be relied on by your client, even if the purpose for which your client intends to use it changes after you have handed over the survey.
  • Finally, the judge relied on the Bolam v Friern Barnet test of professional negligence. There has been some suggestion in other industries of an erosion of the Bolam test as the correct test for determining professional negligence, so it is interesting that the judge relied on it in this case.

Emily Pittaway is a trainee with the Construction, Engineering & Procurement team and authored this article. If you have any questions please feel free to get in contact.

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