April 12, 2013

What’s the difference between a swimming pool and a porch?

You don’t have to pay for a defective porch but your do have to pay for a defective pool - boom! boom! Not the greatest joke of the century but reading the report of a Court of Appeal decision this morning on a payment dispute concerning a £6,500 ornamental porch, the thought, “You must be joking”, springs to mind…

We’ve all been telling our clients for years that, based on the ‘Ruxley’ swimming pool case (and following cases), if what you have contracted for isn’t quite what you wanted but still performs (the pool was a foot too shallow but was still a pool), then you can’t just tell the contractors to rip it out and start again. You can’t reject the works on the basis that your expectations of the ‘highest quality’ haven’t been met. But it now seems that you can if it’s an ornamental porch...

Mr and Mrs Alliott asked their local blacksmith to provide them with an ornamental porch for the front entrance to their house. They agreed to pay £6,500 and paid a deposit of £2,000. The porch was supplied and installed but the Alliotts didn’t like it one bit; there was a lack of symmetry in the frame of the porch and a lack of finish; it wasn’t to the high standard they had expected. They rejected it and asked for their deposit back. The blacksmith accepted it wasn’t quite right but a porch was still a porch; he knocked £2,000 off and sued for the balance. Anyway, he said, you painted it after it was installed, so you must have accepted the porch (legalese: we call that ‘affirming the contract’; once affirmed you can’t then seek to reject the item).

Eventually, after 3 hearings in 3 separate courts, the Court of Appeal decided that the Alliotts were right. The nature of the defects, the cost of rectification, the practicalities of rectification and the Alliotts' contractual expectation of work of the highest quality led to the clear conclusion that there had been a breach of a condition under the Sale of Goods Act and/or the Supply of Goods and Services Act.

The other joke of course is that a dispute over a £6,500 ornamental porch ended up in the Court of Appeal… a good use of everyone’s time and money? I think pride may have got in the way of practicality on this occasion.

If you have questions about this or any other construction & engineering issue, please get in touch with Louise Garcia, in our Construction & Engineering team.

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