Local Authority not liable for collapse of four properties

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02 March, 2017

Lyons v Pendle Borough Council

Preston County Court - January 2017

The Claimant was the owner of an end terraced house in Nelson and the Defendant the owner of 3 unoccupied, derelict properties on the same row. In 2013 the roof structure of all four properties collapsed, leaving them unsafe and in need of demolition. The Claimant alleged that the initial collapse occurred at number 71 and a domino effect was caused. The Claimant therefore held the Defendant responsible in nuisance and negligence for the collapse and sought all losses arising therefrom.

The Defendant contended that all of the properties in the row suffered the same structural defects in terms of the chimney stacks and therefore the collapse may have been caused by any of the four properties' chimney stacks beginning to move. Any damage caused to the Claimant's property was caused by defects within his own property alone and not by any disrepair within the adjacent properties.

At trial both parties relied on their own expert engineering evidence. The extent of the difference of opinion was significant with the Claimant's expert suggestion that the failure of the chimney stacks was caused by Sulphate attack whilst the Defendant's expert suggested a structure problem with the flue gathers in the properties. The Judge, having considered the evidence as to the construction of the properties and the manner of the collapse, ultimately accepted and preferred the Defendant's theory for the collapse.

The Defendant was awarded its costs and the case was dismissed.

Forbes comment

Cases like this often turn on the quality of the expert evidence. In this matter, with the assistance of our own expert we were able to highlight the significant flaws in the Claimant's expert evidence to undermine the case before the Court. The burden is on the Claimant to prove his case on the balance of probabilities, and whilst the Defendant does not have to prove an alternative, in this instance the Defendant was also able to present a more feasible and realistic theory to assist the Court.

For further advice please contact Nick Holgate by email or on 01254 222399.

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