The High Court has told an engineering business it cannot make amendments submitted more than a year after its original defence to a civil claim was filed.

Robert West Consulting had sought on 6 December 2016 to amend two responses to its answer to the claimant’s request for further information, first submitted on 4 December 2015.

The claimant, building contractor Willmott Dixon, accepted one amendment but contested the other and told a High Court hearing there was insufficient time to respond before trial on 16 January.

The defendant, represented by London firm Beale & Co, wanted to add a new allegation purporting to make the claimant vicariously liable for a sub-contractor’s work, which caused damage to a wall and delayed a building project.

In Willmott Dixon Construction v Robert West Consulting, The Hon Mr Justice Coulson said the claim raised the question of whether the claimant owed a non-delegable duty and if the defendant could rely on it for the purposes of contributory negligence.

He agreed with the claimant, represented by national firm Kennedys, that as a matter of law it could not be vicariously liable for its independent sub-contractor.

He considered that the amendments had no real prospect of success and should not be allowed. Even if there were a case on the issue of law, Coulson said the late nature of the filing would rule out accepting the amendment.

The judge said the changes were made only a few weeks before trial and with no explanation for why they were delayed.

The amendments, he suggested, would introduce uncertainties and inevitably cause an adjournment to the trial date if they were allowed.

Coulson said the claimant had prepared its case and would be forced to reconsider its arguments to focus on matters it had previously thought unnecessary. 

‘If I allowed these amendments, they would not only comprise an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction to the claimant as it prepares for a trial that is a month away, but it would probably also give rise to the need for further evidence, perhaps including expert evidence. That would fatally jeopardise the trial date.’