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Negligent advice given to farmers: what can you do?

Those involved in agribusiness will often obtain advice from a full range of professionals, from solicitors, property valuers/surveyors and accountants to more hands on consultants, such as agronomists, and vets. But what if the advice is incorrect and you have suffered a loss? What if your solicitors failed to properly register a transfer of some land? What if your accountants provided out-of-date tax planning advice? What if your agronomist gave you the wrong advice leading to a crop failure?

When a mistake has been made, you might be able to bring a claim in negligence against the professional. The fundamental elements of establishing any negligence claim are: (1) there is a duty of care; (2) that duty was breached; (3) there was a loss which was caused by the breach.

Establishing a duty of care is often straightforward in circumstances where you formally engaged the professional, i.e. when you asked him or her to complete work for you and/or provide you with advice.

The duty of care is breached where the advice given or the work done, falls below the standard expected of a reasonably competent professional of that type. This is often a more difficult question, and at this stage we would investigate the facts of the case (including the advice given and the parties' knowledge and circumstances at the time) in order to assess whether the relevant duty has been breached.

You would then need to establish that the breach caused you loss. Sometimes difficulties can arise here - for example, there can be a number of factors contributing to the loss which were unconnected to the advice given, such as poor weather conditions relating to a claim against an agronomist or wider market forces relating to a claim against an accountant. Contributing factors are not always fatal to a professional negligence claim but need to be carefully considered at the outset and throughout the case.

Finally, the loss suffered must be reasonably foreseeable as a result of the advice given by the relevant professional being wrong. A typical example is where a solicitor incorrectly registers a transfer of land ownership at the Land Registry, say omitting a vital right of access. It would on the face of it be reasonably foreseeable to the solicitors that land-locked land would be worth significantly less than if the property had appropriate access, and the purchaser would suffer a loss relating to the reduction in value of the property, as well as any costs of rectification.

If the above matters can be established, and you are successful in a claim against a professional, you are entitled to be put back into the position that you would be in if the negligent advice had not been given. If you think a professional has given you incorrect advice, you may wish to speak with a specialist professional negligence disputes lawyer.

Joanne Saye is a Solicitor specialising in Commercial Litigation with particular expertise in Professional Negligence and the Agricultural sector, for further information, please contact Joanne on 0117 321 8037or j.saye@ashfords.co.uk.

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