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When Friendly Advice Becomes a Liability

The case of Burgess and another v Lejonvarn [2017] highlights the fact that a duty of care may apply even when providing advice or services for free from one friend to another and where no professional or contractual relationship exists.  

Ms Lejonvarn worked as a professional consultant. Her friends, the Burgesses, were seeking to remodel their garden. Ms Lejonvarn began providing design and project management services, however no formal agreements were made and the position was ad hoc.  No money was ever paid.

The Burgesses became concerned about the cost and quality of the work. The relationship deteriorated and an alternative landscaping consultant was engaged.  A claim was subsequently brought against Ms Lejonvarn for the cost of completing the project, including the remedial works. Despite the lack of contract and the informality of discussions, the Court found that a duty of care had arisen and that tortious damages could flow from this. 

Ms Lejonvarn did not owe a duty in the friendship sense but in the professional sense.  She possessed a special skill and had assumed responsibility on which they had relied.  She had taken on a project management position and had arranged for workmen of her choosing to perform works. 

An important note to take away from this is that duties can be imposed on professionals even where no contract exists.

If a person chooses to perform services, they must act with reasonable skill and care when doing so.

Giving advice or performing services, even in informal settings, can result in unintended liability. Where advice is given, at the very least, make it clear that it is not to be relied on as the basis of taking (or failing to take) action.