Architects duty to guard against their client’s own negligence
Sahib Foods was the tenant of a factory in Southall in London used for the production of food supplied to supermarkets. PKS were the architects engaged when the factory was refurbished.
A fire destroyed the factory resulting in a £27m claim being brought against PKS. The fire was started by an employee of Sahib by over filling a pan with oil and leaving gas burners on at the end of the day. A thermostat was broken, the oil ignited and the fire rapidly spread, destroying the factory.
Sahib accepted that it was entirely to blame for the start of the fire but blamed PKS for failing to design-in fire resistant panels to guard against the spread of the fire as a result of the misuse of the equipment.
On the particular facts of the case, the High Court found that PKS should have designed-in fire resistant panels to guard against Sahib’s employees negligence and by failing to do so, PKS was itself negligent as it was held the architects duty was owed to guard against the possible negligent misuse of cooking equipment at their client’s premises. The High Court awarded Sahib its entire claim.
PKS appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal stated that a party is negligent if he knows of a risk but fails to reasonably reduce that risk. Here, the Court found that PKS should have:-
(a) made further enquiries of the cooking processes in the factory; and
(b) undertaken a thorough risk assessment.
The Court of Appeal also stated that had PKS undertaken these steps the fire resistant panel would have been installed and the fire would not have spread.
That said, Court of Appeal went on to find that:-
1. Sahib had in fact mislead PKS concerning the factory’s cooking processes and
2. The fire not only started but had also spread as a result of Sahib’s own negligence.
The Court then reduced Sahib’s damages by 2/3rds.
The Court of Appeal therefore in the writer’s view got to the right result albeit via a rather circuitous route.
This important case serves as a reminder that even where a party is itself partly to blame, a claim may still successfully be brought.
In addition, the case highlights the need to keep accurate records of what each party had required from the other when undertaking the project. Had accurate records been kept, the case should have been resolved at an early stage and the considerable risk, and expense of a lengthy trial and latterly appeal avoided.
If you think you have a claim for professional negligence against your architect, we can offer free impartial advice. Contact a member of our team today on 0800 051 8057.