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The law in Ireland and the law in England and Wales appears to be re-converging on the point (if, in fact, there ever was a divergence) that the existence of a contractual relationship is not incompatible with a duty in tort to avoid inflicting economic loss on someone.

Almost as a matter of course when the phrase “economic loss” appears, it will be with reference to matters pertaining to a building contract.

That was the case in Tesco Stores Ltd, v. Costain Construction Ltd. & Ors. [2003] EWHC

The judge in Tesco stated his finding as follows:

… I find that Costain assumed a duty of care to Tesco to carry out the work which it itself, rather than any sub-contractor, in fact did pursuant to that agreement with the care and skill to be expected of a reasonably competent building contractor. That work potentially included both physical work of construction and the making of decisions as to design, in the sense explained by May LJ in the passage which I have cited from his judgment in the second Bellefield case. I find that that duty did extend to not causing economic loss, for the reasons which I have endeavoured to set out.”

The liability of a builder/designer is contingent on the contract not having excluded a liability for negligence and the remedy for that is to read the terms of any contract to ensure no such liability is excluded.

Of course there are other difficulties for aggrieved property owners as was seen in Irish Equine Foundation Ltd. v. Robinson [1999] IEHC.

Here, the court decided, as a preliminary issue, that the Plaintiff’s claim was statute barred under the Statute of Limitations 1957.

The lesson is this; when the builders leave, carefully examine the work, time is running!