Householders whose homes suffered storm and flood damage reluctantly found themselves at the epicentre of a High Court case in which they defeated claims that they should be held personally liable to pay builders who carried out repairs.

The four property owners all held home insurance policies with, and put in claims to, industry giant Zurich plc. However, due to an unfortunate series of events entirely beyond their control, they ended up being sued by building company A J Building and Plastering Limited, which had been subcontracted to carry out the repair works by Zurich’s nominated contractor, Rok Building Limited.

Zurich had paid Rok for the work but the money was not passed on to A J Building before Rok went into administration. Rok was subsequently wound up and A J Building was left out of pocket. A J Building argued that the homeowners were personally liable to pay for the work carried out on their homes. The company pointed to ‘mandates’ signed by each of the householders which, it claimed, put them under a direct contractual duty to make payment in full.

However, dismissing A J Building’s case, the Court noted that the company had been the third and final link in a contractual chain and ruled that, on a correct interpretation of the mandates, the householders did not assume the risk of the money paid by Zurich ‘disappearing in Rok’s hands’.

Observing that his decision would affect the outcome of a significant number of similar cases, Judge Keyser QC said that the homeowners had known nothing of the background situation. Absolving them of liability, the judge said, “This conclusion would cause me no regret.”


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