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Professional Negligence

Professional negligence, as the name suggests, is a term used for a range of claims brought against professionals based on the premise that the professional in question failed to act to the required standard, with the failure resulting in the client suffering a loss.

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Examples of professional negligence claims include actions against solicitors, accountants or surveyors, although that list is far from exhaustive; professional negligence claims may be pursued against any professional who purports to have particular expertise in an area and whose conduct then falls below the expected standard.

To bring a successful claim for professional negligence, there are certain established legal principles that need to be satisfied:

1. Duty of care

A duty of care is an obligation placed on a professional not to cause harm to a client.  A duty of care can be established through a contractual relationship (such as a solicitor’s client care letter), or a duty can be imposed by the operation of law where, for example, a professional has assumed a responsibility towards a client and the client has relied upon this.

2. Breach of duty

Once a duty of care is established, it is necessary to show that the duty has been breached by the professional.  Broadly speaking, the appropriate test is whether the professional acted in a way that no reasonable member of the same profession would act.

3. Causation

Even though the professional’s conduct may have fallen well below the expected standard, it is necessary to show that the failure actually caused the loss that was suffered.   This involves questioning whether, “but for” the actions of the professional, would the client have suffered the loss?

The second aspect of causation is ‘remoteness’, that is whether the type of loss suffered by the client is foreseeable to the extent that the parties could reasonably expect the loss to arise from the alleged breach.

If the loss would have been suffered regardless of the professional’s conduct, or the loss is too remote, then a claim will not succeed.

Important Considerations

Here are some additional points to consider when dealing with professional negligence:

  • Time limits: There are strict time limits in place for bringing professional negligence claims in the UK. Generally, you have six years from the date of the breach itself, or three years from the date you became aware of the breach of duty, whichever is later.
  • Expert evidence: In certain cases, expert evidence from someone qualified in the relevant profession will be necessary to help establish that the professional breached their duty of care.
  • Costs: Legal costs associated with pursuing a professional negligence claim can be significant. It’s essential to discuss potential costs and funding options with your solicitor at the outset.

Understanding your rights and the potential recourse available is vital if you think a professional’s negligence has caused you harm. While pursuing a professional negligence claim can be complex, seeking legal advice early can help you navigate the process and ensure your rights are protected.

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