Cases involving residential properties can make for complex disputes, as Cartwright Pond v Louise Wild demonstrates. Matt Lindsay explains
A seemingly straightforward £84,000 house extension turned into a lengthy construction dispute that ended up in court where the warring parties were unable to agree on “fundamental matters”, according to the presiding judge Stephen Davies.
Defendant Louise Wild purchased the property, a 1970s house in Goostrey, Cheshire requiring modernisation, in December 2014. She decided to undertake alterations to the property and in 2017 instructed an architect and structural engineer. Cartwright Pond was appointed contractor but was eventually dismissed following various disagreements with Ms Wild, at which point it launched legal action.
Among the many issues in dispute were:
- the terms of the contract;
- who was responsible for the delay occurring before termination of the contract;
- who wrongfully repudiated the contract; the contractor’s claim for variations and loss of profit; and
- the employer’s claim for defects, costs of completion and damages for delay.
This was a relatively small dispute made by a contractor against a residential property owner who represented herself in court. But often cases involving residential properties can make for some of the most complex disputes. Arguably this is a result of the lack of experience of the homeowner in matters of construction and contract law, and their very personal involvement with the project.
“Homeowners lack experience in matters of construction and contract law, and have very personal involvement with the project.”
This case is no exception. The dispute involved the successful claim by the contractor for wrongful termination and payment of sums due under the contract. The residential property owner client had elected to administer the contract herself, rather than take advice from an architect or other professional.
With little in the way of contract or contract administration in place, the project started in July 2018. As the project progressed, changes in both the substance and specification of the project were instructed and the completion date was inevitably missed. The project came to an “acrimonious” end in March 2019, and after instructing two solicitors, Ms Wild eventually went on to represent herself in court.
In court, among the many arguments over contractual issues and repudiation of contract was a discussion around the delay to progress and subsequent completion.
The judge pointed out: “Whilst this is very far from a major construction project, it is not an easy task for a court to make clear findings as to the causes of delay in circumstances where:
- there is not very much in the way of contemporaneous documentary evidence;
- no independent contract administrator was appointed who undertook a contemporaneous analysis of the causes of delay;
- neither party has undertaken a detailed retrospective analysis of the causes of delay and their impact upon the critical path of works necessary to achieve completion; and
- there is no expert evidence in relation to delay.”
The judgement handed down found in favour of Cartwright Pond on 11 June 2021.
This small case encapsulates all that can go wrong with construction delay claims. Both parties were criticised for their lack of documentation or delay analysis when it came to court. Once the dispute had arisen, proceeding to hearing without any analysis in place put both parties in a difficult position when it came to demonstrating liability.
These points are not new and have been made in many disputes and hearings in the past. However, the concise nature of this dispute mean that it will undoubtedly attract much attention.
It seems unlikely that when Ms Wild contracted for an £84,000 extension she would have anticipated incurring what are almost certainly substantial court costs and becoming a case study for delay analysts and construction lawyers everywhere.
Matt Lindsay is a director and delay expert witness at Chronos Consult.