The claimant maintained that it was owed a personal duty of care in relation to an alleged over-valuation of a property, on the basis that it had asked for a specific individual because of his experience, and the valuation report stated that “the valuer accepts responsibility to the client”. The defendant’s application for summary judgment was refused, and he appealed.
The High Court allowed the appeal. An individual acting as an agent, whether as an employee or not, did not incur personal responsibility to a claimant on the basis of his advice unless:
- That individual had, by words or conduct indicated to the claimant that he was prepared to accept personal responsibility in the event that his advice was negligent
- It was reasonable for the claimant to rely upon those indications
In this instance, although the claimant had placed great emphasis on the words “the valuer accepts responsibility”, the expression “valuer” (which was not defined) could
not be interpreted as referring to the defendant as an individual. The report had been prepared by the company, and the company’s logo had been stamped below the individual’s signature. Further, it was not reasonable for the claimant to have understood that the individual had assumed responsibility; it was wildly improbable that
an employee would have accepted liability to a financial institution for many thousands of pounds. Anyone looking at the report objectively would have understood that it was the company’s report.
Note that the Court indicated that, had the report been written in the first person singular (“I” and “my”), rather than in the first-person plural (“we” and “our”), there might have been some substance to the claim.