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Not my damage, not my party!


Robert Taylor v Peter and Linda Jones and Peter Spriggs [2024] EWCA Civ 170

A recent Court of Appeal judgment illustrates the central importance of the need to establish causation in any claim, including one made under the Party Wall Act 1996. The decision is of particular interest as it highlights the challenges and potential pitfalls that can be encountered when building works cause new damage to a neighbouring building that already suffered from pre-existing damage.


Mr Robert Taylor (RT) carried out work to extend his flat into the garden of his property. Mr and Mrs Jones and Mr Spriggs (the Respondents) were owners of the two properties to the rear of RT’s garden and were affected by his works. Specifically, the works caused the rear wall of the neighbouring property to drop by about 2mm and resulted in some minor cracking. The works also caused the internal walls to separate and drop, which in turn led to a drop in the levels of the flooring and internal walls.

Investigations into these issues also revealed two significant problems not known to the parties but that predated RT’s works:

  1. A very large horizontal crack in the rear wall of the respondents’ properties at damp proof course level had developed due to tree root or other subsidence; and
  2. Voids had developed beneath the floor slabs since a 1970s conversion and over ten years before the works took place, again due to tree root desiccation/vegetation and settlement of the sub-base.

Awards were made by the party wall surveyor under the 1996 Act requiring RT to pay each respondent a substantial sum as compensation for the entirety of the proposed remedial repairs, including underpinning the rear wall (which was necessary due to the discovery of the pre-existing defects).

This was appealed in the County Court by RT. RT’s liability was upheld but each award was reduced, with RT having to pay 75% of the respondents’ costs.

RT submitted a further appeal on the basis that the trial judge had erred in principle because she had in effect made him pay for the costs of making good defects in the properties which long predated his works and which his works had not caused.

The Decision

Lord Justice Nugee, with Lord Justice Bean and Lady Justice Macur agreeing, found the following:

On the issue of compensation under the Party Wall Act, it was helpful to start with a consideration of section 7(2) which states:

“The building owner shall compensate any adjoining owner and adjoining occupier of any loss or damage which may result to any of them by reason of any work executed in pursuance of this Act.”

Nugee LJ described the text highlighted in bold as the “language of causation”, so the first step in the analysis was to consider whether RT’s works had caused the damage claimed.

In this case, the trial judge had given clear answers to that question and on a proper analysis, the pre-existing defects with the rear wall and the voids under the floor slabs were not caused by RT’s works. The next question, which Nugee LJ suggested was the decisive issue in the case, was what work needed to be done in order to repair the relevant damage. The technical evidence confirmed that the damage to the internal wall and the dropped floor could be reinstated without underpinning the rear wall.

In practice, no contractor or engineer would approve a scheme addressing underpinning the internal walls without underpinning the rear walls.

However, while it was practically necessary to do the work because of the unacceptable state of affairs with the rear wall, importantly, underpinning to the rear wall was not required to repair damage caused by RT’s works. Accordingly, it was held that RT was not liable for the cost of underpinning the rear wall which was proved to be due to a pre-existing defect, and the appeal succeeded on this ground.


This case touches upon a number of interesting points of law, from legislation to well-established case law on betterment.

It boils down to the consistent consideration of causation, which, in this case, as in many others, is reliant upon the technical opinion of the experts to determine.

The principle that a defendant should only be liable for the damage that they have in fact caused, seems obvious and self-evident. However, there may be practical challenges in identifying the true causal link in cases where there are multiple causes or instances of pre-existing damage.  


If you would like more details, or want to discuss further, get in touch.

Stephanie McCarthy, Solicitor and Construction Special Interest Group member

Property Risks & Coverage

Email: smccarthy@keoghs.co.uk

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