Law Reports: Case bucks current trend for anxiety and stress payouts

Eribo v Odunaiya and Logic Plough Property (Queen's Bench Division — 19 February 2010)

The claimants, the owners of a substantial family home, wished to renovate their property. They met the first defendant who not only presented them with proposals to refurbish to a high specification but presented them with the concept of a 'play nest' home. A play nest home is a bespoke renovation designed to take care of 'nest stress' by providing leading-edge technology to include, among other items, a fingerprint entry system, advance security that allows the occupant to view who is ringing their doorbell from a remote location, automatic climate control, automatic blinds and sophisticated lighting.

The renovation works commenced in June 2005 but did not proceed well. After 15 months the project was still nowhere near complete. After a period of persistent problems, including one day when all the electrical systems broke down, the claimants commissioned an independent surveyor to report on the state of the works. In light of the surveyor's report the claimants terminated their contract with the defendants and subsequently brought a claim for the cost of remedying all the defects to the property.

The court found that the claimants had been wholly entitled to terminate the contract and were entitled to damages of just under £300 000 in respect of late and defective work. Judgment was, however, given against the company only and not the director of the company. The claimants sought to argue that there was a collateral contract with the first defendant personally on the basis of a number of representations that the first defendant had made. The judge however declined to find that there was a collateral contract in place.

The claimants also claimed general damages for inconvenience and distress. It is well known that damages for inconvenience and distress are generally low and the case frequently cited is Watts v Morrow (1991). The judge considered that the real claim here was for stress and inconvenience suffered during the course of the refurbishment works, which the judge considered inadequate for an award of general damages.

COMMENT

The fact that the individual who ran the company had no personal liability is indicative of the reluctance of courts to look beyond the presence of a company. The decision not to award damages for stress and inconvenience is surprising and does not coincide with similar cases. Therefore, one must exercise caution in relying upon it. However, for defendants it is a useful decision to counteract the current trend for claimants seeking to recover thousands of pounds for anxiety and stress. Louise Allam, BLM London

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