The respondents were owners of a hotel and retained the services of the appellants to design the work necessary to remedy structural defects in a large bay window in the building.
Remedial work was carried out to the engineer’s design in 1997. In late 1999 the respondents noticed that the lintel over the window had moved and cracked the surrounding structure. Further remedial works had to be carried out.
The respondents subsequently brought a claim against the appellants both in contract and tort. The claim was not issued until September 2003.
The contract claim was, by that stage, time-barred. The appellants argued that the claim was also time-barred in tort as the cause of action accrued when the work was completed in 1997 and six years from that date had passed. The respondents argued that the cause of action accrued when or shortly before they first noticed cracking in 1999 and was not therefore time-barred.
The court held that the claim was not statute-barred as it was brought within six years of the cracks appearing. The appellants appealed.
The issue was whether the claim in tort was time-barred.
The court of appeal held that the present state of the law of England was not clear but the court was bound by an earlier House of Lords decision in Pirelli General Cable Works vs Oscar Faber . This meant that the cause of action accrued when the physical damage occurred. The tort claim was not therefore time-barred.
The court added that even if it was not bound by Pirelli and the cause of action accrued at the time the respondents suffered economic loss, then the defective design would have caused loss when it manifested itself in some way. The result would thus be the same and the claim would not be time-barred.
*Full case details
Abbott vs Will Gannon & Smith Ltd, Court of Appeal (Civ Div) 2 March 2005
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The appellants were unsuccessful in arguing that the later House of Lords case of Murphy vs Brentwood  was inconsistent with the earlier House of Lords decision in Pirelli and therefore Pirelli should not be followed. Although the Court of Appeal sympathised, the court felt bound by the Pirelli decision, as it had not been expressly disapproved.