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Facts about damage that are “material” under s14A(7) of the Limitation Act 1980

News | Sun 11th Oct, 2015

Blakemores v Scott and another [2015] EWCA Civ 999 concerned a claim by a firm of solicitors for outstanding fees in excess of £635,000 allegedly owed under CFAs entered into in 2009.  The Appellants had instructed Blakemores to apply to the Land Registry to close title to correct a mistake on the register under paragraph 5(a) of schedule 4 to the Land Registration Act 2002 (the “LRA”).

The Appellants disputed the claim and issued proceedings against Blakemores in negligence.   Blakemores, it was said, had omitted to inform the Appellants of the potential consequences of failing to file objections to registration of titles before the deadline of 21 April 2005.  As a result they missed the deadline and a Deputy Adjudicator exercised his discretion to refuse to close title on 10 December 2010. 

Judge Simon Brown QC, sitting as a High Court judge, determined at first instance that the negligence claims were statute barred by the three-year limitation period as the Appellants had been told in April 2009 both that Blakemores had been negligent, and that they had suffered damage as a result of the failure to register their objections to title.

On appeal to the Court of Appeal the Appellants argued that they only possessed the knowledge required by sections 14A(5) and (6) of the Limitation Act 1980 in December 2010, when the Deputy Adjudicator had actually exercised his discretion not to close title.  On this basis their claims were in time. 

The Appeal was successful.  Delivering the leading judgment Vos LJ stated that the trial judge had been wrong to determine as a matter of law that the starting date for limitation purposes had to be April 2009, when the Appellants had been informed of negligence on the part of Blakemores.  A trial on the facts would therefore be necessary in order to establish whether the Appellants had knowledge of the “material” facts at that date (within the meaning of s14A(7) of the 1980 Act), namely whether:

“…knowing simply that the firm had been negligent in not advising that the objection should be filed before the deadline was enough to lead a reasonable person to consider it sufficiently serious to justify his instituting proceedings for damages against the firm, assuming it to be solvent and unwilling to dispute liability.”

In summary, bare knowledge of negligence will not necessarily start the clock for the purposes of limitation under s14A where there is doubt as to whether the consequences of such negligence were actually understood. 

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