Successful appeal against strike out of £6.5 million property damage claim

14 Dec 2021

BLM represented a property owner and its insurers in a successful  appeal against the strike out of a £6.5 million property damage claim arising out of a fire in a large unoccupied cinema.

The Court of Appeal has today handed down its judgment in the case of Rushbond Plc v The JS Design Partnership LLP [2021] in which the decision of the High Court to strike out the claim has been overturned.

BLM acted for Rushbond and their insurers in their successful appeal.

The case concerns a claim in negligence against architects JS Design for damages of £6.5 million arising out of a fire in a large empty cinema, the Majestic, in the centre of Leeds. The architect carried out an unaccompanied visit to the property during which they disabled the security protections in place and left the access door unlocked and unattended throughout their visit. It is Rushbond’s case that, with the existing protections having been disabled, the failure by the architect to lock or otherwise guard the access door after entering the property allowed an intruder into the property who caused the fire.

In July 2020, the High Court struck out the claim finding that the architect did not owe the property owner a  duty of care in negligence to protect the property from damage during their visit due to this being a case of ‘pure omission’ for which there is no liability in law.

The Court of Appeal has today overturned that decision on the basis that it is arguable that the architect did owe a duty of care to the property owner in these circumstances and that it was not a case of ‘pure omission’, with the architect being therefore potentially liable for the consequences of their failure to take reasonable steps to ensure that the property was properly protected when carrying out their visit.

This is a welcomed judgment in a situation where it is fanciful to suggest that the sole occupant of the property, trusted with keys, owed no duty of care to the property owner to take reasonable precautions as to security.  The Court gives the example of where you leave your keys with a neighbour, so that they can come and water your plants whilst you are away, and in doing so leaves the front door open and a vagrant enters, builds a fire and burns down your house. In those circumstances, the Courts considers it is arguable that your neighbour owed you a duty of care to take reasonable precautions as to security.

BLM’s team was led by Hanna Platt, Partner.

The full judgment is available here.

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Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to clients of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.

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Hanna Platt

Hanna Platt

Partner,
London


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