Murphy v Brentwood District Council

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Murphy v Brentwood District Council [1991] 1 AC 398

DUTY OF CARE – RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TORT AND CONTRACT

Facts

The defendant local authority had negligently approved plans for the footings of a house (a task which fell within its responsibility in accordance with the provisions of the Public Health Act 1936). The claimant purchased the property, but some time afterwards it began to subside as a result of defects in the footings. The claimant was unable to afford the required repairs, and was forced to sell the property as a loss. He also claimed damages for the health and safety risk which the defects had caused to himself and his family during the time they lived at the property.

Issue

The issue was whether the claimant was owed a duty of care with respect to the damages which he had suffered as a result of the defective footing which had been approved by the defendant.

Held

Declining to follow its previous ruling in Anns v Merton London Borough Council [1978] AC 728, the House of Lords held that as the damage suffered by the claimant was neither material nor physical but purely economic, the defendant was not liable in negligence. It was decided that to allow the claimant to recover damages for the money which he had lost on the sale of the property, or for the cost of repairing it, would result in an unacceptably wide liability which would effectively amount to judicial legislation introducing product liability and transmissible warranties for defective buildings.

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