The importance of establishing causation in a claim
The recent case of Beattie Passive Norse Limited v Canham Consulting Limited demonstrates the importance of establishing causation in any claim.
In that case, Beattie Passive Norse Limited (BPN) brought a professional negligence claim against Canham, arising from defective foundation designs prepared by Canham for two blocks of terraced housing owned by BPN. BPN pursued a claim for £3.7m for the cost of demolishing and rebuilding the two blocks along with other consequential losses.
Although it was acknowledged and accepted by Canham’s expert that the foundation designs were flawed in certain aspects, the case centred on the issue of causation and whether the negligent designs actually caused the decision to have the blocks demolished and rebuilt.
Firstly, BPN had given its building contractor an outdated version of the foundation designs from Canham, rather than supplying them with the updated drawings which provided for a more robust foundation design.
Secondly, Canham argued that the blocks contained numerous other construction defects that had nothing to do with their foundation design and it would have been necessary to demolish the blocks irrespective of the negligent designs.
Thirdly, the defects in Canham’s designs could have been rectified without demolishing and rebuilding the blocks. In support of this argument, Canham pointed to the fact that the remediation works had already started prior to BPN’s decision to demolish the blocks.
The High Court agreed with Canham’s arguments and found the above factors had broken the chain of causation between Canham’s negligent foundation designs and the decision by BPN to demolish and rebuild the blocks. The Judge described BPN’s claim as being “weak and speculative” and awarded it the sum of £2,000 for the cost of the remedial works that should have been made to the blocks’ foundations to fix the negligent designs.
What also did not help BPN’s case was that the Judge found that BPN’s expert had exaggerated the position which BPN had adopted and had not considered reasonable points put to him that undermined BPN’s position. Rather than assisting the Court, which all experts are under an obligation to do, BPN’s expert had behaved like an advocate for the party who had instructed him.
This case illustrates the importance of presenting factual evidence in demonstrating causation even where there is an admission in respect of negligence. If the claim does not arise directly from the Defendant’s wrongdoing but instead has occurred through another event, then the Claimant will not be able to recover in respect of that independent event.