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The Courts Have struggled with imposing a duty of care for pure economic loss.

Pure economic loss is strictly financial loss. In most cases, it is where the thing conferred (goods or services) is not worth as much as you paid for it.


General rule

Spartan Steel & Alloys Ltd v Martin & Co
The general rule in English Law is that a claimant is unable to recover damages for pure economic loss.

Assumption of responsibility

Hedley Byrne v Heller [1964]
This case introduced the ‘assumption of responsibility’ as a test for the duty of care.

Henderson v Merrett Syndicates [1995]
Application of the assumption of responsibility test, and analysis of how this duty is affected by the various contracts between different parties.

White v Jones [1995]
Applying the assumption of responsibility test, the Court imposed on a solicitor a duty to take reasonable care in favour of the intended beneficiaries of a will.

Steel v NRAM [2018]
Recent Supreme Court confirmation that the primary test for deciding whether a defendant owes a duty of care to protect another from pure economic loss is the assumption of responsibility test.

Banca Nazionale del Lavoro SPA v Playboy Club London Ltd [2018] [2018]
Application of the assumption of responsibility test where the claim is brought by an undisclosed principal against a negligent bank.

Defective property cases

Cases involving defective properties have proved particularly contentious

Anns v Merton LBC [1978]
The defendant Council was held to owe a duty to take reasonable care when reviewing the foundations of buildings under construction. They were held liable for the ‘inherent defect’ of the property itself.

D&F Estates v Church Commissioners of England [1989]
The builder of a property generally only owes a duty in the tort of negligence to future occupants or owners to take reasonable care not to cause damage to persons or property, not pure economic loss.

Murphy v Brentwood DC [1991]
Overturning Anns v Merton LBC, a local authority does not owe the future owners of a building a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing them pure economic loss.

Professionals cases

Robinson v PE Jones [2011]
The appropriate test for a duty of care in the context of professionals (where the loss is pure economic loss) is the assumption of responsibility test. This test is not satisfied even where the claimant owners specifically request a builder to perform specific services.

Effect of a contract

A contract can either exclude a duty of care, or show there has not been an assumption of responsibility.

Greenway v Johnson Matthey plc [2018]
A bank does not owe an undisclosed principal a duty to take reasonable care when giving a credit reference.

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