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Farley v Skinner [2001] UKHL 49

Surveyor negligently reporting property unaffected by noise; whether damages recoverable

Facts

Farley instructed Skinner to prepare a survey on a property he was considering purchasing. The property was 15 miles from an airport, and Farley specifically requested Skinner to ascertain whether it would be affected by aircraft noise because he did not wish to live on a flight path. Skinner reported the property was unlikely to be affected by aircraft noise. Farley purchased it and it was substantially affected by aircraft noise. He sought damages for breach of contract.

Issues

Farley argued the report was sub-standard and in breach of contract because he had specifically requested Skinner investigate the issue of aircraft noise, and Skinner had failed to do so. He sought damages to compensate him for the diminution in enjoyment of his property he suffered because of the noise. He contended such losses were recoverable despite the fact he had not suffered financial losses, and to establish physical discomfort, it was not necessary for him to prove a physical injury. Morrow contended damages for mental distress were generally irrecoverable for breach of contract. Farley had not suffered pecuniary losses and damages for distress may only be recovered where the object of the contract was freedom from distress. Surveyors contracts contain a promise to exercise reasonable skill and care in the provision of information, and the provision of amenity cannot be said to be the object of such contracts.

Held

Farley recovered £10,000 for his discomfort. Damages could be recoverable for the loss of a pleasurable amenity which may be of no economic value, if they are of importance to the claimant. Recovery was not restricted to physical discomfort, and it was sufficient to show that the question of the amenity formed an important part of the contract.


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