Professional negligence claims and COVID-19


12th May 2020

The majority of professionals are now working from home or remotely as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions.

This could result in more professional negligence claims being made. Some professionals will be experiencing an increasing number of new matters arising from the pandemic, increasing the pressure and stress, together with adapting to working from home.

Others are experiencing a decrease in their workloads, providing them with the opportunity to take a more relaxed approach. Despite the best intentions, things still do go wrong.

Without the formal office environment, together with increased pressure or the relaxed attitude, it is easy to make mistakes or miss important deadlines resulting in potential professional negligence claims. This is why it is crucial to work together during these difficult times.

Increased risk of breaches

It is important to stay alert as a more relaxed attitude or increased pressure could result in an increase in breaches of GDPR, breach of duty and contract or cause other notable issues. Some mistakes may have significant consequences for clients. This does not relate solely to solicitors, but also financial advisers, surveyors, architects, accountants and other recognised professionals.

Following the financial crash of 2008 and the resulting decrease in house prices there was a correlating increase in professional negligence claims against surveyors and conveyancers. The impacts of the coronavirus may have a similar effect as an economic squeeze could mean that individuals and businesses try to recover losses which they may otherwise have written off.

The COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to provide a professional with an excuse for failing to comply with his or her duties to their client or present a reasonable defence to a professional negligence claim.  Professionals should identify risks and implement sufficiently robust contingency measures to ensure that the clients they represent are not prejudiced.

What to look out for – professional negligence claims

If you are engaging the services of a professional, you should be conscious of any necessary adaptations they have had to make and check they are continuing to comply with their obligations to you (for example, deadlines to service notices or to comply with court directions). It is crucial to have communication between all parties in the current situation.

We are all in this together but if professionals have seriously breached their duties to you (usually the standard of a reasonably competent professional or any contractual obligations within their retainer), there may be a potential claim. Some examples are:

  1. A professional failing to meet a ‘hard’ deadline or failing to issue a claim before limitation period expires, resulting in you losing out on a chance to pursue a claim
  2. A professional negligently advising you in unsuitable investment or pension products in the current uncertain financial climate
  3. Your professional adviser incorrectly preparing your end of year accounts
  4. Your professional surveyor failing to identify a defect in your property or valuing a property incorrectly
  5. A refusal of planning permission as a result of your chosen professional’s negligent application and/or advice

If you have any concerns, please contact our professional negligence claims team.

This article has been co-written by Michael Colledge and Nichola Gordon-Jones.

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