Ross v Caunters (a firm): ChD 1979

The court upheld a finding of negligence against a firm of solicitors for failing to ensure the correct attestation of a will, and also the award of damages in favour of a disappointed beneficiary.
A solicitor owes a duty of care to the party for whom he is acting but generally owes no duty to the opposite party.
Sir Robert Megarry VC held: ‘It also seems to me that there is ample authority for saying that a successful plaintiff cannot obtain, in the guise of damages, any costs which, on a party and party taxation of costs, are disallowed by the taxing master. It is not enough for the plaintiff to claim that such costs were incurred by him as a result of the defendants’ negligence. I think that this is sufficiently established by Cockburn v Edwards (1881) 18 Ch. D. 449. I am saying nothing about damages which fall outside the particular form in which they are claimed in this case, namely, the legal expenses of investigating the plaintiff’s claim up to the date of the issue of the writ. It seems to me that both on authority and on principle those legal expenses can be recovered by the plaintiff only as costs, and not in the form of damages. In so far as the plaintiff can persuade the taxing master that the items incurred should be allowed as costs on a party and party taxation, then the plaintiff can recover them; but so far as they are not allowed by the taxing master, then I think that they cannot be recovered in the shape of damages.
Accordingly, on the inquiry as to damages which counsel agree should be ordered, no head of damage for the legal expenses of investigating the plaintiff’s claim up to the date of the issue of the writ will be allowable as damages’.

Sir Robert Megarry V-C
[1980] Ch 297, 123 Sol Jo 605, [1979] 3 All ER 580, [1979] 3 WLR 605
England and Wales
CitedCockburn v Edwards CA 2-Aug-1881
A solicitor advanced money to his client on a second mortgage, in which was inserted a power of sale exerciseable at any time without the usual proviso requiring that notice should be given, or some interest should be three months in arrear; and it . .

Cited by:
CitedHumblestone v Martin Tolhurst Partnership (A Firm) ChD 5-Feb-2004
The solicitors sent a will to the client for execution, but failed to notice on its return that it had not been properly executed, the signature not being that of the client.
Held: The solicitors were under a duty to ensure that the will would . .
CitedWhite and Another v Jones and Another HL 16-Feb-1995
Will Drafter liable in Negligence to Beneficiary
A solicitor drawing a will may be liable in negligence to a potential beneficiary, having unduly delayed in the drawing of the will. The Hedley Byrne principle was ‘founded upon an assumption of responsibility.’ Obligations may occasionally arise . .
CitedWorby, Worby and Worby v Rosser CA 28-May-1999
Three potential beneficiaries sought payment from a solicitor of the costs of resisting the grant of probate to a will, saying that he had owed them a duty of care to ensure that the testator did not execute a later will in circumstances in which he . .
AppliedGartside v Sheffield Young and Ellis 1983
(New Zealand) The court discussed the potential liability of a solicitor having failed to prepare an effective will: ‘To deny an effective remedy in a plain case would seem to imply a refusal to acknowledge the solicitor’s professional role in the . .
ApprovedSmith v Eric S Bush, a firm etc HL 20-Apr-1989
In Smith, the lender instructed a valuer who knew that the buyer and mortgagee were likely to rely on his valuation alone. The valuer said his terms excluded responsibility. The mortgagor had paid an inspection fee to the building society and . .
CitedJD v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust and others HL 21-Apr-2005
Parents of children had falsely and negligently been accused of abusing their children. The children sought damages for negligence against the doctors or social workers who had made the statements supporting the actions taken. The House was asked if . .
DistinguishedWalker v Geo H Medlicott and Son (a Firm) CA 19-Nov-1998
The claimant said that the defendant solicitor had negligently failed to include in the will a specific devise of property in his favour.
Held: A beneficiary who alleged negligent failure of a will draftsman to include a gift to him in a will . .
CitedBlackpool and Fylde Aero Club Ltd v Blackpool Borough Council CA 25-May-1990
The club had enjoyed a concession from the council to operate pleasure flights from the airport operated by the council. They were invited to bid for a new concession subject to strict tender rules. They submitted the highest bid on time, but the . .
CitedSteel and Another v NRAM Ltd (Formerly NRAM Plc) SC 28-Feb-2018
The appellant solicitor acted in a land transaction. The land was mortgaged to the respondent bank. She wrote to the bank stating her client’s intention to repay the whole loan. The letter was negligently mistaken and the bankers allowed the . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Professional Negligence, Wills and Probate, Damages

Updated: 12 January 2022; Ref: scu.185876