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SURVEYORS

Professional negligence – surveyors – failure to warn of aircraft noise – damages for “discomfort”

A person who sues a surveyor for failing to report on aircraft noise in the vicinity of his property, is entitled to recover damages for the physical inconvenience and discomfort that is caused by the noise.

F appealed against the decision of the Court of Appeal (73 Con. L.R.70, [2000] C.L.Y. 1485) allowing the appeal of S, a surveyor, against the award of £10,000 made to F by way of damages for the interference with the enjoyment of his property cased by aircraft noise. S, who had been instructed by F to survey the property prior to his purchase of it, and to specifically investigate the likelihood of aircraft noise from a nearby major airport, had negligently concluded that the house was unlikely to be affected.

Held, allowing the appeal, that S’s obligation to investigate aircraft noise had been an important part of the contract, and S’s failure to properly investigate that aspect had prevented F from making an informed choice as to whether or not to buy the property. That had, in turn, led to mental distress and disappointment for which damages had been sought. The guidance in Watts v. Morrow [1991] 1W.L.R 1421, [1992] C.L.Y 1548 was still valuable in the context of determining whether damages were available for breach of contract, but there was no reason in principle and policy why the scope of recovery in the exceptional category should be dependent on the object of the contract as ascertained from all its constituent parts. It was enough that an important object of the contract had been to give “pleasure, relaxation of peace of mind” and that it had been breached, Watts considered, Knutt v. Bolton 45 Con. L.R 127, [1996] C.L.Y 1211 overruled. F had not forfeited his right to damages by remaining at the property, given that he had acted reasonably in making the best of the situation, and that his decision not to move had prevented a larger claim against S.

FARLEY v. SKIMMER (NO.2), [2001] UKHL 49, [2001] 3W.L.R 899, Lord Steyn, HL

“Current Law” November 2001