Covid-19 has thrown the world into chaos and businesses have had to adapt rapidly to continue to function. Key decisions had to be made quickly and on the basis of constantly changing government guidance, which has often been lacking in detail. To cope, many have turned to professional advisors in an attempt to weather the storm and specifically to accountants, independent financial consultants, and property surveyors.
In most cases seeking help from a professional has paid dividends, but as Barry Wood, dispute resolution expert at Richard Reed explains, ‘there are stories starting to emerge of advice being given which has turned out to be wrong and where this has had a detrimental effect on a business, it may be possible to seek redress and compensation by bringing a claim for professional negligence’.
What is professional negligence?
Professional negligence occurs when someone who holds themselves out as being in a position to provide you with specialist advice, or to undertake a specialist service, causes you to suffer financial loss by:
- failing to act in accordance with accepted standards of practice in their field of expertise; or
- providing advice that other experienced professionals practising in their chosen area would not have given.
In most cases, professional negligence occurs because an advisor has agreed to take on a matter beyond the realms of their expertise or because they have elected to delegate the matter to a junior member of staff who they fail to supervise properly.
Both scenarios are likely to have arisen during the ongoing pandemic given the novel nature of the virus, the constantly changing advice from government and the fact that many professional service firms will have been operating at reduced capacity.
Examples of coronavirus-related professional negligence
In the context of Covid-19, examples of professional negligence that are beginning to emerge include incorrect advice having been given by:
- accountants on the availability of targeted tax reliefs and on eligibility for, and use of, the Government’s furlough scheme;
- financial advisors on the management of investments and on eligibility for grants and loans;
- insurance brokers on the cover provided under existing and new policies to deal with coronavirus-related business disruption;
- solicitors on the ability to terminate or vary ongoing contractual arrangements;
- conveyancers on the steps needed to complete commercial property transactions, particularly during the initial lockdown; and
- surveyors and valuers when personal inspection of commercial premises has been prohibited or subject to restrictions.
What are your options?
If you believe that a professional advisor has given you the wrong advice or provided you with a substandard service, then you have three options when it comes to seeking redress. The first is to utilise the advisor’s internal complaints procedure. The second is to raise your concerns with the advisor’s regulatory body or an affiliated organisation designated to address such concerns, and the third is to take formal legal action.
The option best suited to your circumstances will depend on:
- what the advisor is alleged to have done wrong;
- whether this amounts to professional negligence or simply poor service;
- the harm that has been caused; and
- what it is you want the advisor to do to put things right.
As a general rule, issues arising out of poor service should be dealt with via a formal complaint and issues arising out of negligence should be dealt with via a legal claim.
How we can help
The speed with which the coronavirus has spread around the world has taken everyone by surprise, including professional advisors who have had to adapt quickly to operating in a fluid situation and tailor their advice and services appropriately.
Determining whether professional negligence has occurred against this backdrop will require specialist advice from a law firm with the skills and experience needed to apply the usual rules governing this area of law, in extraordinary circumstances.
Our professional negligence lawyers have the expertise needed to help you determine whether a professional negligence claim may be possible and, if it is, to recover the compensation you are lawfully due.
They are also trained to identify other potential grounds upon which recourse can be sought where a professional negligence claim is not possible, including via a claim based on breach of contract where circumstances permit.
Since the pandemic began, we have been monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on the legal rights and obligations of the businesses we represent, and so are ideally placed to provide targeted and clear advice on any business dispute you may now encounter.