Igloo Regeneration (General Partner) Ltd & Ors v Powell Williams Partnership (2013)
The defendant surveyors had not been negligent in failing to identify compression failure as the cause of cracking in the brickwork of a 19th century mill building purchased by the first claimant.
The claimants (X) brought a claim in negligence against the defendant surveyors (P).
X were institutional purchasers of a converted mill building which had been built in the 19th century. They had instructed P to survey the building before it was purchased in 2003. P noticed cracks in three brick piers at ground-floor level. They advised that the cracks appeared to be of recent origin and were consistent with the separation of the outer face of the brickwork from the inner courses, that remedial wall ties should be installed as a holding procedure, that the cracks should be monitored and that a provisional figure of £20,000.00 should be set aside for the strengthening of the piers if deterioration continued. In 2005, significant and serious increases in the sizes of the cracks were noted. Compression failure was identified as the cause of the cracking and expensive repairs were required to rectify the problem. X claimed that P ought to have advised that there was a significant risk that the damaged piers were suffering from compression failure, that the stress on the piers was far in excess of an acceptable level and that there was a significant risk that they were unsafe and would require temporary propping and permanent reconstruction.
P did not fall below the requisite standard of care. As the experts for both parties had accepted, what was required here was the application of engineering judgment. The cracking problem was localised in effect to a few square feet of brickwork at ground-floor level on three out of 14 piers. There was no other material damage visible anywhere. There was no obvious increase in loading over and above historic loadings. Other than the cracking itself, there was in reality no hint that there were in place factors which could cause compression failure; what caused it were hidden voids within the brickwork which P could not have known about. The building had stood for 172 years without obvious signs of structural failure in the brickwork or otherwise. There were no other signs of compression failure such as visible reflective cracking on the inside or crushed brickwork. It was difficult therefore to criticise P for failing to appreciate that compression was a significantly realistic cause of the cracking. The parties' experts accepted that compression failure was very rare in a building such as this. The other two possible causes of the cracking, namely frost damage and internal steel corrosion, were more likely than the rare compression problem. X had criticised P for not carrying out calculations but calculations would not have been helpful in determining the cause of the cracking; as P's expert had said, calculations were rarely undertaken in diagnosing defects in old buildings that had stood perfectly for many years where the cause of the defect had to be due to a change in circumstances. Further, P had not been negligent in recommending that the cracks should be monitored or in failing to recommend an intrusive investigation into the cracking (see paras 93, 103, 111-112 of judgment).
Judgment for defendant
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24 Jun 2013
Queen's Bench Division
LTL 4/7/2013 :  EWHC 1718 (TCC)