8 October 2020
Red alert - Autumn 2020 – 3 of 6 Insights
An architect carried out an inspection of a vacant cinema. A third party unknowingly gained access during the inspection and later started a fire causing damage worth £6.5million. The property owner brought an action against the firm of architects, alleging negligence for allowing the third party to enter the cinema. The Court struck out the claim, holding that the firm did not owe a duty of care to prevent the intruder gaining access.
The case concerned a vacant cinema in the centre of Leeds owned by the Claimant, known as The Majestic. The property had capacity to seat around 2,500 and was therefore of a considerable size. The property was protected by an alarm system.
An architect from the Defendant firm collected keys and the alarm code from the landlord's agents and visited the cinema for about an hour. The architect unlocked the side door and deactivated the alarm and then entered the cinema.
Whilst inside and without his knowledge, an intruder entered via the unlocked door and hid within the cinema.
The architect then left, having activated the alarm and locked the door. The intruder remained inside and later started a fire which caused the damage.
The cinema owner brought an action for damages against the architect's firm. The cinema owner argued:
In response, the architects defended the claim stating:
After the exchange of statements of case, the Defendant architects brought a claim for summary judgement and invited the court to strike out the claim. In accordance with the court rules, a court will be entitled to do so if:
A summary judgement application is obviously a powerful procedural step as it is possible to avoid the delay and costs of a lengthy trial. Consequently, there have been many cases on what is needed in order to satisfy the criteria for succeeding in an application for summary judgement. For example, it has been held that the court must consider whether the claimant has a "realistic" as opposed to a "fanciful" prospect of success. In addition, a "realistic" claim is one that carries some degree of conviction. This means a claim that is more than merely arguable.
The court examined the history of cases which dealt with the question of whether a duty of care arose and held that the architect's failure to lock the door during his inspection inside the property may have enabled the intruder to gain access but it did not provide the means with which to start the fire.
More interestingly, the court noted that the architect did not hold himself out as having any special skill or expertise in safeguarding property. This would contrast with a fire or security expert or even perhaps a lettings or managing agent. In conclusion, the fact the architect had the key during his inspection was not sufficient to give him responsibility for protecting the property from fire damage.
It is interesting that the court made a distinction between the responsibilities of an architect and that of a letting or managing agent when accessing a property. Clearly it would be prudent for a property owner to insist that their agent accompanies any visitors to properties. More importantly, it can't be too difficult to secure the door behind you particularly in large properties.
by Multiple authors
by multiple authors
by multiple authors