Robinson v PE Jones Ltd [2011] 3 WLR 815

Key point

  • Assumption of responsibility/Hedley Bryne principle does not apply in non-professional contractual relationships

Facts

  • Cs sought to sue D builder of the house the owned for negligence in the process of construction that led to costs spent on repairs
  • Issue: could the repair costs, as a form of pure economic loss, be recoverable on the basis that D had assumed responsibility towards Cs?

Held (Court of Appeal)

  • The loss was not recoverable as assumption of responsibility C and D were not in a professional relationship
  • In any case any duty of care was excluded by terms of the contract: [84]

Jackson LJ

Concurrent liability

  • Citing Henderson v Merrett Associates, where there is an assumption of responsibility, the existence of a contract does not prevent a duty of care from arising: [80]
  • Professional persons are taken to assume responsibilities for pure economic loss to their clients as they draw up reports, accounts, plans and so forth and expect their clients to rely on their work product often with financial consequences: [75]
  • Beyond professional relationships, contractual and tortious liability are not always concurrent: [76]

Builders do not assume responsibility to building owners

  • Under the contract D was tasked to build the house to C’s specifications, the parties were not in a professional relationship whereby, for example, the C was paying the D to give advice, reports or plans upon which C would act: [83]
  • In contrast, an engineer or architect can assume responsibility as they are providing a professional service: [74]

Stanley Burton LJ

  • It must now be regarded as settled law that the builder/vendor of a building does not by reason of his contract to construct or to complete the building assume any liability in the tort of negligence in relation to defects in the building giving rise to purely economic loss
  • The same applies to a builder who is not the vendor, and to the seller or manufacturer of a chattel.
  • Junior Books and Anns v Merton “must now be regarded as aberrant, indeed as heretical”: [92]

Commentary

  • It seems like only knowledge-based professions can assume responsibility under the Hedley Byrne principle
  • For a long time it was thought the Junior Books was a case of assumption of responsibility, but this case rejected that assertion