It isn’t often that you see quantity surveyors caught up in an adjudication as one of the parties, although they often feature heavily in other respects (as the parties’ experts, representatives or even as the adjudicator). In fact, I am not personally aware of a claim against a quantity surveyor, although I have seen breach of duty claims against other members of the professional team (like engineers and architects). Quantity surveyors do not seem to feature much in court cases either.
I’m not sure any of this means quantity surveyors are perfect, but there must be a reason why they aren’t sued that often.
It seems to me that there is great potential for a quantity surveyor to make a mistake, to get his sums wrong. At the outset of a project, the quantity surveyor usually has responsibility for checking tenders for the works, based on the drawings and specification he receives. He must ensure his sums add up. As the project progresses, the quantity surveyor will measure and value the on-going works, providing regular valuations for the architect (or other project administrator) to include in its interim certificates. His valuations will usually deal with variations to the works, as well as excluding the value of defective or incomplete works. At the end of the project, the quantity surveyor has responsibility for getting his sums right again.
It should go without saying that the quantity surveyor owes a duty to the employer to exercise reasonable skill and care when it comes to all these calculations. He may be forgiven the occasional slip or error, particularly if that error can be corrected in a subsequent valuation. However, the quantity surveyor’s duty does not extend beyond calculations (that is, quantities), to issues of quality. At all stages, the quantity surveyor is reliant on others, like the architect, to advise him of any defective or incomplete works that should not be valued.
The quantity surveyor’s duty in this situation is well established (Sutcliffe v Chippendale & Edmondson (1971) 18 BLR 149) and so I read Coulson J’s recent judgment in Dhamija v Sunningdale with interest. Here the claimants alleged the quantity surveyor should go further and should only value works that were “properly executed” and “not obviously defective”. They alleged that the quantity surveyor had a positive duty to bring defective work to the architect’s attention.
To the relief of quantity surveyors everywhere, Coulson J disagreed with the claimants’ analysis of the quantity surveyor’s duty and followed the Sutcliffe principle. He did not extend the duty of care owed by the quantity surveyor to issues of quality.
It seems to me that it is one thing to notice things that don’t look right when you are on site (and raise those with the architect if you think it is necessary to do so), but it is quite another thing to say that you are under a positive duty to do so.