*Full case details Stephen Donald Architects Limited vs Christopher King, 30 July 2003, High Court Queens Bench Division, Technology and Construction Court, Judgment of His Honour Judge Seymour QC
The judge decided that the claimant never entered into a legally binding agreement in relation to fees and that their involvement was on a speculative basis arising from their principal's friendship with the defendant. They were therefore unable to recover any professional fees. The judge also rejected the claimant's quantum meruit claim on the basis that the project had been a joint venture between the claimant and the defendant for mutual profit and the claimant had assumed the risk that the defendant might decide not to proceed with the project in the form in which the claimant had designed it. The judge also rejected the claimant's claim for wrongful repudiation, as there had been no contract between the parties and therefore the defendant was entitled to bring his relations with the claimant to an end at any time without legal liability. The judge nevertheless refused to allow the defendant's counterclaim in relation to the affordability of the designs prepared by the claimant as the claimant took the steps a reasonably competent architect should have taken once it became apparent that the construction costs would exceed the defendant's budget.
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This case provides a caution to those who undertake work without entering into a formal contract on the assumption that, if one is never entered into, there will be a quantum meruit claim for a reasonable price for the work done as a fall back. If the risk is not clearly allocated, then it is open to a court to find, as it did here, that on the facts the party carrying out the work undertook the entire risk of the project not proceeding and could therefore recover nothing, even though the other party had acquired a real benefit at its expense. An agreement between friends, if not put in a detailed legal framework, should not be assumed to give rise to legal remedies which a court will provide at a later date if the friendship turns sour.