This case is a cautionary tale of the duties owed when someone acts for a friend in a professional capacity. Mr and Mrs Burgess and Mrs Lejonvarn were friends in North London. Mrs Lejonvarn had various architectural qualifications but was not a registered architect. Mr and Mrs Burgess wanted to redevelop their garden and turned to Mrs Lejonvarn to assist them with this sizable job. Mrs Lejonvarn agreed to act as a project manager dealing with such matters as amending the existing design, working up costings and supervising the work of her regular contractors. She would not charge the Burgesses for the initial stages of the project.
Sure enough, after the works began, the parties fell out. The main disagreements were over the cost of the works and the standard of Mrs Lejonvarn’s supervision of the works.
The court had to decide whether the “professional” defendant owed Mr and Mrs Burgess duties in contract and/or tort. The court found that there was no contract between the parties. The broad terms of the retainer were so woolly that it was held that there had not been any intention to create legal relations. In addition, there had been no consideration passing from the Burgesses to Mrs Lejonvarn so there could not be a binding agreement.
But this was not the end of the matter. As the relationship between the parties was far closer to a professional one than a social one, a tortious duty of care was owed by Mrs Lejonvarn in respect of her supervisory skills. Accordingly, Mrs Lejonvarn was required to exercise due care in respect of the professional services she was providing for free to the Burgesses. In the light of these preliminary findings by the Judge, the parties were invited to attempt to reach a settlement.