Understanding Professional Negligence



What is professional negligence?

When we engage professionals to provide a service or advice, we expect a certain standard of service. Professional negligence occurs when a professional fails to perform their responsibilities to the required standard. 

In English Law, there is no general duty to come to the rescue on another (as there is in many other European Countries); however, if you engage a professional to provide you with a service or advice in England, then they would almost certainly owe you a duty of care. 

Professional negligence may have serious consequences. For a claim to succeed, it must have caused financial loss, physical damage, or generally put the Claimant in a worsened position.   

When will a claim succeed?

A claim may be based on a breach of a contractual duty, a duty of care in tort, a fiduciary duty, or a statutory duty.  Here, we will focus on the tort of negligence. The tort of negligence has three basic requirements, which must be proven beyond the balance of probabilities. These are:

  • A duty of care exists
  • That duty of care has been breached; and
  • The breach of the duty of care has caused the Claimant loss or damage. 

Firstly, it must be established that the professional owed you a duty of care. Where you have engaged a professional to provide you with a service, it is usual for the professional to owe you a duty of care (a duty of care in tort) regardless of whether they have a contractual duty to provide you with such care. 

Secondly, it must be proven that the duty of care has been breached. Therefore, you must satisfy one of two grounds. These are:

  • That another professional in the same field would have provided alternative advice or acted in an alternative way; and / or
  • That the professional failed to adhere to their standard of practice.

If it can be proven that the duty of care has been breached, for example, through giving incorrect advice, misdiagnosis, etc., you must be able to show that the breach of their duty of care has caused you a loss. This could be a financial loss, time loss, physical damage or more.

Finally, for a claim to be successful, the loss caused must have been reasonably foreseeable by the professional. Therefore, the professional should have been able to anticipate that you would suffer a loss from their incorrect actions.

Time Limits  

The Limitation Act 1980 sets out the time limits for when a claim can be brought. In a claim brought for a loss suffered, there is usually a period of six years from the date of the ‘damage’ suffered.  However, when the damage  occurred is not always straight forward. Sometimes the 6-year period can be extended, for example, where negligence only becomes apparent at a later date. In these circumstances, the limitation period is 3 years from the date when the facts that gave rise to a claim are known. However, it is not always easy to establish when  this knowledge was acquired. There is a long stop date of 15 years.

With any professional negligence claim, the first step will always be establishing that there is enough time left to bring the claim. The precise date as to when the time limit begins may be complicated as it can be influenced by multiple factors.

If you believe that you have suffered from professional negligence, we have experienced solicitors that can help.

For more information and to find out how we can help you, please contact us on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.