Construction professionals will breathe a sigh of relief after a contractor was prevented from suing its professional team for negligence 12 years after completion of a warehouse project.

The contractor failed in its bid to argue that the six year limitation period started when it was notified of a claim by the building’s leaseholder in 2010.The case centres on a warehouse development completed by Birse Developments in 1998. Birse provided a warranty which was assigned to Co-operative Group the leaseholder of the development. Twelve years later Co-op issued proceedings against Birse, claiming there were defects in the development.

In the case, Co-operative Group Limited -v- Birse Developments Limited and others, Birse sought to pass on its liability to its engineering consultants and specialist flooring sub-contractor. It also issued proceedings against a company which undertook soil stabilisation works for the development.

Birse argued that the six year liability period only started when Co-op’s claim was first made in 2010. It also tried to argue that the liability period would only have started in the event Birse was held liable at trial.

The judge, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, considered a number of legal precedents. These included the decision in Linklaters Business Services -v- Sir Robert McAlpine. In that case the judge had decided, that when a main contractor claimed against its sub-contractor, time did not begin to run until a claim was first ‘intimated’ against the main contractor.

In this case Mr Justice Stuart-Smith decided that Birse’s action against its professional consultants and sub-contractors was time-barred. He said that the six year limitation period had started to run when the development was completed.

The present decision is good news for construction professionals and their insurers as it reinforces the present understanding of the 6 year time bar,” said James Burgoyne. “If the claimant’s case had been allowed, it would have had very significant implications for professional’s liability. However this was a complex case and is subject to appeal, so there is a risk that the situation may yet change. We will be watching developments carefully on behalf of our clients.

Further details of the case have been published by solicitors, Hill Dickinson.