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Shop Sign Injury Victims Not Owed A “Duty of Care” By Inspection Surveyors

Shop sign
16th June 2015

A surveyor firm was not found liable for a shop sign, which fell and caused serious injury to the passer-by claimants, following a “shop front” inspection, says appeal court.

At the original hearing, where the claimants brought proceedings against the shop-owner and a firm of surveyors who had inspected the shop awning for damage, the judge found the shop-owner and the surveyors to be liable. A third party involved in the shop front renovation was also given entitlement to claim from the surveyors.

At the appeal hearing, the surveyors disputed that they owed a “duty of care” to the claimants or the shop-owner. The defendants argued that the original verdict was based on the judge appearing to have acted on the assumption that they had been instructed to inspect the shop-front on behalf of the shop-owner.

In fact, following a complaint, the shop owner had requested the surveyors to just investigate damage caused to the shop front awning by the landlords’ workmen. The surveyors had not been asked to inspect the awning to ensure that it was not dangerous to passers-by.

Landlord’s “agent”

The surveyor defendants also argued that they did not owe a duty of care to the shop-owner as they had been instructed as the landlord’s “agent” rather than as a surveyor, and not instructed to assess the condition of the shop front in general.

The court heard that if the surveyors had been asked to inspect the awning to ensure that it was not dangerous to passers-by then “a sufficient degree of proximity” - the closeness or directness between the particular parties, course of action and the loss and injury sustained - would have existed. However in this case, this causal relationship had not been sufficiently established.

The shop-owner had pressed the surveyor’s as the landlord’s agent to ensure that the awning problem was resolved. Consequently, the evidence did not suggest that it was reasonable for the shop-owner to rely on the  surveyor’s report and the judge at the original hearing had placed too much weight on foreseeability.