• In the case of Murphy v Brentwood DC [1991] 1 A.C. 398, it was held that a local authority is not liable in tort for negligent application of the building regulations, where the resulting defects are discovered before physical injury occurs; the loss suffered is purely economic.

Facts of the Case

  • D referred the plans for building a house to consulting engineers acting as independent contractors. Despite the consulting engineers’ advice failing to take into account calculation errors in the foundation’s design, D passed the plans. The house was built with a defective foundation.
  • While C was occupying the house, the foundation cracked, causing extensive damage to the walls and pipes. With an estimated £45,000 repair cost, C instead sold the house for £35,000 less than market value in undamaged condition and claimed damages for negligence against D.
  • At first instance, it was held that, in passing the plans, D had relied on negligent advice and, therefore, had itself been negligent. The house defects had become an imminent danger to C’s safety and health while C was in occupation, giving C a cause of action against D.
  • C was awarded £38,777 in respect of the diminution in the house’s market value and the expenses incurred by C as a result of the damage.


  • Could D discharge liability for approving the plans since they acted on the advice of an independent contractor?
  • Could C recover costs for repairs performed before damage was inflicted?

Held by the House of Lords

  • Appeal dismissed, D had a statutory duty to ensure the plans were in line with statute and this could not be discharged.
  • C could recover because the repairs were done to remove a potential risk of danger to their health and safety; it was not a purely economic loss.

Gibson L.J.

  • On proof of present or imminent danger to the occupier’s health or safety, the occupier acquires a cause of action to recover at least the expenditure necessary to restore the house to a condition where the danger is not present.
  • This includes within recoverable damages the cost of repair. It matters not that it may still be regarded as a new concept.
  • It also does not matter that, since the imminent danger to health was discovered, the restoration cost may be regarded as purely economic loss. You cannot work out what is necessary to be done to remove a danger without knowing that the danger exists and the cause of such danger.

Nicholls L.J.

  • “The practicalities of the matter dictate that when reaching its decision and discharging its statutory duty, the local authority will have the benefit of advice from individuals with the requisite skills. The local authority will then make its decision, in reliance on such advice. Thus, when common law imposes on a local authority a duty to take reasonable care in and about making this decision, that duty is primarily concerned with the exercise of reasonable care by the individuals, whoever they may be, who give the advice on the basis of which the decision is taken. The selection of those individuals is a matter for the local authority. The local authority may employ its own expert staff. Or it may seek outside assistance…Whichever course it may choose to follow, the decision is being made by the local authority on the basis of the advice it receives. It seems to me that the common law duty of care would be in danger of being emasculated, and its purpose partly defeated, if the local authority’s liability for the negligence of those advising it were to depend on whether the authority had decided to go outside for advice rather than dealing with the matter ‘in-house’” [435F].