Slee Blackwell Solicitors offer a free Helpline facility.  Potential clients can call up with their legal problems and we will chat it through them, giving guidance and help where we can.  If there is a potential professional negligence claim or inheritance claim, we will ask the client to send in their case papers, so we can have a better look before deciding whether to take the claim on.  For a professional negligence case, this is usually done on a no-win-no-fee basis.  However, a lot of calls fall by the wayside as it quickly becomes evident there isn’t a viable claim, much to the frustration of the caller who may have suffered a loss.  Take this one for instance.

Fourteen years ago, Mr Price (not his real name of course) was the beneficiary under his Uncle’s Will.  The Estate comprised a large farm with a number of fields and a farmhouse.  The farmhouse was to go to Mr Price whilst the fields were to be sold off.  The field adjacent to the farmhouse could only be accessed along the driveway to the farmhouse so before the field got sold off, the solicitors dealing with the Estate granted an all-purpose right of way over the driveway. So whoever purchased the field could get access. 

A couple of years ago, Mr Price decided to sell the farmhouse.  He knew that there was a right of way over the driveway for the owner of the field but had presumed that the right of way was for agricultural purposes only.  He was taken aback a bit to find it was an all-purpose right of way.

He had the house valued and found that the house was worth about £300,000 less than he thought it was worth.  He blamed the original solicitors dealing with his Uncle’s Estate for granting an all-purpose right of way and felt that it was that which had reduced the value of the property. He therefore wanted to bring a lawyers negligence claim.

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by that.  I am not a valuer but found it difficult to imagine that an extensive right of way like that would cause such a massive devaluation of the property.  Mr Price then told me the reason why he was wanting to sell up. 

Apparently, the ownership of the adjacent field had changed hands a few times over the years and now belonged to a group of Travellers.  Much as Mr Price hated to admit it, he had to agree that it was undoubtedly the presence of the Travellers on the field that caused the devaluation rather than the right of way.

I had to explain to Mr Price that whilst the solicitors may have been negligent, the best he would get would be the diminution in the value of the house fourteen years ago.  You can only claim damages that are reasonably foreseeable and I cannot see a Court agreeing that fourteen years ago, the solicitor could have foreseen the field being owned by Travellers and causing a devaluation in the property. Any devaluation caused by the more extensive right of way was likely to be modest and we discussed the commercial considerations of bringing a solicitors’ negligence claim. There were also limitation concerns and it’s a good opportunity to remind people of the 15 year longstop limitation date for latent damage claims – but the details of that are for another time.