Negligent litigation advice: did it cause a loss?

The recent case of Geraint Thomas and Christine Thomas v Ian Albutt [2015] EWHC 2187 (Ch), is a reminder that in order for professional negligence claims to succeed, any negligent advice given to a client (in this case litigation advice) must directly result in that client suffering loss.

Mr & Mrs Thomas opened a caravan park and campsite business in the Brecon Beacons in 2005. Shortly after the site opened campaigners fronted by the Usk Valley Conservation Group brought a judicial review claim against the opening of the campsite. In response to these campaigners a High Court judge at a judicial review hearing quashed the farm’s planning permission.
Mr & Mrs Thomas sued their barrister for the £100,000 worth of legal costs incurred in defending the judicial review claim. They claimed that the barrister’s legal advice was ‘negligent’ and ‘over optimistic’ in regards to their prospects of succeeding.

The High Court ruled in favour of the barrister, stating that although some of the barrister’s advice was negligent, any potential improvement to the couple’s case would only have improved their prospect of success by about 5-10%. The court held that the impact of the correct advice would have been negligible and the defence would have most likely failed anyway. This was because the development was very unpopular with the local public. As the couple’s defence would have failed even in the absence of negligent advice, it did not result in any loss to the couple.
This case is a good illustration of the principle that, for a professional negligence claim to succeed, the professional advisor’s negligence must be the actual cause of the loss to a client.