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Claimants succeed in negligence claims against Withers


HHJ Pelling QC has made findings of negligence against defendant solicitors in two related cases. Each trial was heard fully remotely in the early part of this year.

In Spire Property Development LLP and Anor v Withers LLP [2021] EWHC 2400 (Comm), the defendant solicitors, Withers, had acted for the claimant property developers in their purchase of two properties (the “King’s Properties”) for development in 2012. After the purchases were completed, the claimants discovered extra high-voltage cables (“HVCs”) running across both properties, which rendered it impossible for them to redevelop the properties in the manner they had intended.

The claimants alleged that Withers were negligent in 2012 in failing to carry out a form of search, called a UKPN search, that would have discovered the HVCs before the claimants completed the purchase of the King’s Properties. They also alleged further negligence in early 2014, when the claimants, having discovered the HVCs, sought advice from Withers as to their rights as against UK Power Networks (the owners of the HVCs) under the Electricity Act 1989. The Court found for the claimants on both counts, finding that Withers was negligent as alleged in both 2012 and 2014 and awarding the claimants substantial damages in respect of each breach.

In Prime London Residential Development Jersey Master Holding Ltd v Withers LLP [2021] EWHC 2400 (Comm), heard very shortly after the Spire trial was concluded, Withers had acted for the claimant property developers in a dispute with their tenants, a luxury car dealership. The dispute concerned the claimants’ plan to redevelop the building (“Glen House”) by demolishing and rebuilding its floors while the tenant remained in situ on the ground floor and basement.

The claimants sought advice from Withers as to the extent of their and their tenant’s respective rights under the tenant’s lease. The claimants alleged that Withers gave negligent advice on that question, and were also negligent in the preparation of a settlement order once the matter became litigious. The Court found for the claimants on liability in both aspects of the claim, and awarded damages in respect of the latter (the former having failed on causation grounds).

The Spire and Hortensia judgment is here; and the Prime judgment is here.

The judgments were covered in The Lawyer here

Tony Singla QC and Jonathan Scott, instructed by CMS, represented the Claimants in both trials.