When is a favour more than just a favour?

The Court in Burgess and another v Lejonvarn has found that a professional consultant owed a duty of care in tort for services performed as a favour to friends. 

Ms Lejonvarn, a London based architect, performed various gratuitous services relating to her friends' landscape gardening project. When the project deteriorated and the relationship broke down, her former friends claimed for the cost of remedial works.

Following a recent trial of preliminary issues, the Technology and Construction Court found in the first instance that Ms Lejonvarn had no contractual liability as there was no binding contract due to a lack of offer, acceptance and, crucially, consideration (i.e. payment). 

However, the Court found that Ms Lejonvarn owed a duty of care in tort covering several of the design and project management services performed gratuitously.

Whilst the Court’s decision may cause concern to professionals asked to provide informal ad hoc advice to friends and family, the Court emphasised that this was a significant long-term project approached by Ms Lejonvarn in a professional manner.  It involved considerable commitment on both sides. In addition, the parties had discussed payment for Ms Lejonvarn’s services later in the project.  The Court said it would be wrong to categorise this as akin to a favour given without any legal responsibility. 

The claim will now proceed to mediation.

Article by Oliver Kidd, Associate

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