I know I keep saying that you can learn a lot of useful stuff in this job but it is true. I had an enquiry the other day for a potential professional negligence claim and I had already come across the problem that the client was talking about so could speak with him quite knowledgeably on it – much to his surprise I think!

Mr Jones (not his real name of course) had bought a house seven years ago in South Wales. Obviously, the first thing to spring to mind is the “seven years” bit as alarm bells start ringing about limitation when a professional negligence solicitor hears that something occurred more than 6 years ago.. The second point of note is the “South Wales” bit which is an area where there has been considerable mining in the past and I have had a few cases arising from there as a result.

Mr Jones though, purchased his house which had a small extension at the back for the study. Before purchase, he instructed a surveyor to carry out a survey on the property. It wasn’t a full structural survey but a Homebuyers report which tends to point out the more obvious problems with the property. The surveyor gave the property a clean bill of health, despite the fact that the study floor was uneven – it had a kind of ‘bump’ in the middle.

For nearly seven years, Mr Jones had been living in the property quite happily but with all the recent rainfall, he noticed that the study floor was becoming more uneven. It was starting to heave up into the room, causing the walls of the extension to shunt, plaster cracking and gaps in the walls.

Mr Jones called in the surveyor who sent a representative of his insurance company to take a look. After reviewing the area, the insurance company said that they were not going to make any payment as the surveyor could not have known what would occur.

That’s rot as far as I am concerned! Any reasonably competent surveyor working in South Wales, particularly where Mr Jones house was built - which was very close to an old mining facility - should have been alert to the potential problem. Even more so when he saw the bump in the middle of an extension which had been built in the early 1970s.

What am I talking about? Well, as I said, I have dealt with a few cases coming out of South Wales where there have been problems with mines and things associated with mining, so I immediately knew what the problem was: sulphate attack.

After World War II, the building industry started using hardcore as part of the foundations of properties. Because of the lack of readily available materials, those properties built in mining areas tended to use colliery shale with concrete overlaid. Unfortunately, colliery shale contains sulphates which in certain circumstances – especially when it gets wet – reacts with the concrete and causes the hardcore to expand. This causes the concrete to heave up putting pressure on the walls so they are forced out. The problems with this were first identified in the early 1970s and the practice of using colliery shale as hardcore stopped in the mid-1970s.

You will understand therefore why I do not agree with the insurance company that the problem with Mr Jones’ property was not reasonably foreseeable. We had a surveyor who had been asked to carry out a survey in a mining district of South Wales. On visiting the property, he would have seen that there was an extension which clearly was not new. Importantly, there was already evidence of heave in the floor of the extension. Alarm bells should have been ringing!

If you think you might have a problem with sulphate attack, you might be interested in reading this useful Government document which talks about it. If not, you can always come and talk to me!

http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/703049.pdf