The High Court has rejected a negligence claim against a law firm from a woman who had expected to receive a substantial sum from her late friend.
Tina Chantal Joseph, who was described as ‘close and intimate’ with multi-millionaire Canadian Peter Cundill, brought legal proceedings against his firm of solicitors, the high-end London practice Farrer & Co.
But the case was thrown out as it was found Farrers had no duty to preserve trust payments, and the firm was praised for looking after Cundill’s best interests.
Cundill died in 2011 aged 72 and had attempted before his death to give Joseph $10m from a trust fund of which he was a discretionary beneficiary.
His trustees rejected that request, but eventually agreed in 2008 to pay Joseph, who was much younger than Cundill, a total of £5m through periodical payments.
Joseph brought negligence proceedings against the law firm after the trust stopped all future payments after 2009, after Cundill had dismissed his housekeeper at her insistence. Joseph said Farrer & Co should not have allowed the payments to cease, and the firm should have kept her informed about the concerns regarding care arrangements into which she was supposedly interfering.
She claimed to be a party to Cundill’s retainer and, given the firm was instructed to ensure the proposed gift should take place, it owed her a contractual or tortious duty.
In Joseph v Farrer & Co LLP, His Honour Judge Purle QC rejected this submission and ruled that Farrer owed no duty of care towards Joseph in relation to the work carried out.
Cundill had told both his lawyers and the trustees that he was happy with his living and care arrangements and would not alter them, only to then appease his friend by saying he wished to change them.
This tension, said Purle, made it inappropriate for any duty to be imposed. The claimant ran the risk of the trustees changing their mind and there was no duty on Farrers, or its partner Richard Parry, to prevent the payments ceasing.
'It seems to me that there is no sustainable claim for negligence against Farrers,' said Purle.' Indeed, it is impossible not to read the many reams of paper that have been put before me without feeling a great deal of admiration for the obvious conscientiousness towards the interests of his client, Mr Cundill, that Mr Parry showed and the delicate balance that he sought to achieve between giving effect to his client's wishes and ensuring that he was not the victim of his own folly.'
At the conclusion of the case, Farrers senior partner, Anne-Marie Piper, said: 'Our clients have a wide range of legal needs and differing personal circumstances.
'As a firm, we always strive to provide our services in a conscientious and appropriate way and it was gratifying to see the court recognise Richard’s considerable efforts in what was a very sensitive matter.'