RSP Architects Planners & Engineers (Raglan Squire & Partners FE) v Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 1075 and Another

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
Judgment Date30 April 1999
Date30 April 1999
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 246 of 1998

[1999] SGCA 30

Court of Appeal

Yong Pung How CJ

,

M Karthigesu JA

and

L P Thean JA

Civil Appeal No 246 of 1998

RSP Architects Planners & Engineers (formerly known as Raglan Squire & Partners FE)
Plaintiff
and
Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 1075 and another
Defendant

Wong Meng Meng SC, Mohan R Pillay and Lawrence Tan (Wong Partnership) for the appellant

Woo Bih Li SC and Rodney Keong (Bih Li & Lee) for the first respondent

Philip Jeyaretnam and Samuel Lee (Helen Yeo & Partners) for the second respondent.

Anns v Merton London Borough Council [1978] AC 728 (refd)

Bryan v Maloney (1995) 128 ALR 163 (refd)

Caparo Industries plc v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 (distd)

Council of the Shire of Sutherland, The v Heyman (1984-1985) 157 CLR 424 (refd)

D & F Estates Ltd v Church Commissioners for England [1989] AC 177 (not folld)

Dutton v Bognor Regis Urban District Council [1972] 1 QB 373 (refd)

Governors of the Peabody Donation Fund v Sir Lindsay Parkinson & Co Ltd [1985] AC 210 (refd)

Hedley Byrne & Co Ltd v Heller & Partners Ltd [1964] AC 465 (refd)

Invercargill City Council v Hamlin [1996] AC 624; [1994] 3 NZLR 513 (refd)

Junior Books Ltd v Veitchi Ltd [1983] 1 AC 520 (refd)

Murphy v Brentwood District Council [1991] 1 AC 398 (not folld)

Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society Ltd v Michael Brashier Associates (1990) 6 PN 43; (1990) 6 Const LJ 63 (refd)

RSP Architects Planners & Engineers v Ocean Front Pte Ltd [1995] 3 SLR (R) 653; [1996] 1 SLR 113 (folld)

Winnipeg Condominium Corporation No 36 v Bird Construction Co (1995) 121 DLR (4d) 193 (refd)

Yuen Kun Yeu v Attorney-General of Hong Kong [1988] AC 175 (refd)

Defective Premises Act 1972 (c 35) (UK)

Professions–Architects–Negligence–Standard of care expected of architects–Tort–Negligence–Duty of care–Falling bricks and tiles damaging one unit in another block–Management corporation rectifying works–Whether architects owe duty of care to management corporation–Whether architects liable for management corporation's pure economic losses

Falling bricks and brick tiles from a wall of a condominium block damaged one of the units in another block. The first respondent, Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 1075 (“MCST”), incurred costs in carrying out rectification works to the damaged property and to all wall claddings (which had not fallen) to avoid any future injury to persons and/or damage to property. It sued the appellant RSP Architects Planners & Engineers (“RSP”) for negligence in the design and supervision of the construction of the condominium walls. RSP asserted that as there was no proximate relationship between RSP and MCST, RSP owed no duty of care to MCST resulting in their liability for the pure economic loss suffered by MCST. RSP, alternatively, claimed that the failure of the wall claddings was due to the bad workmanship of the second respondent Engineering Construction Pte Ltd, the main contractor, and sought an indemnity and/or contribution from it in third party proceedings. The main contractor argued that the failure was due to the lack of movement joints in the structure of the walls and not any lapse in its workmanship. The High Court allowed MCST's claim and dismissed RSP's claim against the main contractor. RSP appealed.

Held, dismissing the appeal:

(1) To establish duty of care, the approach should be as follows: the court first examines and considers the facts and factors to determine whether there was sufficient degree of proximity in the relationship between the party who had sustained the loss and the party who was said to have caused the loss which would give rise to a duty of care on the part of the latter to avoid the kind of loss sustained by the former. Having found such degree of proximity, the court next considered whether there was any material factor or policy which precluded such duty from arising: at [31].

(2) There was sufficient degree of proximity in the relationship between the architects and MCST resulting in the architects owing a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid the loss sustained by MCST. They knew that MCST which would be in charge of the common property would rely on their care and skill in the design and supervision of the construction of the common property. There was an assumption of responsibility of professional competence on the part of the architects. MCST depended on the architects to get the design of the building right: at [38] and [39].

(3) The amount recoverable was determinate, the person to whom the architects were liable was definable and the time span was not indeterminate: at [41].

(4) The investment in real property was likely to represent a significant, if not the most significant, investment in an individual's lifetime (as opposed to the purchase of a mere chattel). Also, the permanence of the structure may give rise to a greater expectation than a chattel. The above arguments applied afortiori in Singapore where land was not only scarce but expensive: at [43].

(5) The architects were, however, in breach of their duty in the design of the walls and not in the supervision as the causes for the failure of the wall claddings were inadequacies in the design. Even if the walls had been built to the utmost quality, they would still have collapsed because of the poor design: at [47] and [57].

L P Thean JA

(delivering the grounds of judgment of the court):

1 This appeal arose from an action instituted by the first respondents, the Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No 1075 (“MCST”), against the appellants, RSP Architects Planners & Engineers (Raglan Squire & Partners FE) (“RSP”), claiming damages for negligence in the design and supervision of the construction of a condominium called Eastern Lagoon II situate at East Coast Road. RSP while denying liability took out third party proceedings against the second respondents, Engineering Construction (Pte) Ltd (“EC”), who were the main contractors of the condominium, claiming against them an indemnity or contribution. The action was heard before Judith Prakash J. She allowed the claim of MCST against RSP and dismissed RSP's claim against EC. Against her decision RSP appealed. We dismissed the appeal and now give our reasons.

Facts

2 The Eastern Lagoon II and another condominium called Eastern Lagoon I, are two separate developments forming the Eastern Lagoon condominium which was developed by the developers, Eastern Lagoon Pte Ltd. The developers appointed RSP as the architects and engineers and EC as the main contractors for the development.

3 The Eastern Lagoon II condominium comprises two separate 19-storey apartment blocks, the Virgo and Gemini blocks. Flanking each side of the Virgo block is a three-storey block of walk-up apartments, maisonettes and townhouses, known as the Taurus and Capricorn blocks. Similarly the Gemini block is flanked on either side by three-storey blocks, named Libra and Aquarius. Design of the project commenced in 1973 and was completed in 1981. Following the grant of written permission by the Development Control Division of Public Works Department (“PWD”), construction commenced in July 1982 and was completed in September 1984. The certificate of fitness for occupation was granted on 20 July 1985. MCST, the management corporation of the condominium, was constituted on 5 April 1986.

4 Some six years later, on 20 November 1992, bricks and brick tiles forming part of a gable end wall of the Gemini block fell onto unit #03-01 of the Libra block causing damage to the roof and contents of that unit. Shortly thereafter, MCST appointed M/s Murray North (SEA) Pte Ltd (“Murray North”), who are the structural engineers and chartered building surveyors, to investigate and report on the damage and potential dangers arising from this incident.

5 In May 1993, PWD having been informed of the failure of the wall claddings considered that the condition of the external walls of the two tower blocks was likely to be dangerous and issued an order dated 29 May 1993 requiring MCST, among other things, to appoint a professional engineer to inspect the condition of the walls and execute such rectification works as were necessary.

The walls

6 The external walls of the high-rise blocks were constructed as follows. The skeleton of each high-rise block consisted of horizontal concrete slabs, demarcating each storey of the block. The slabs were supported by concrete pillars. Together, the vertical columns and horizontal beams constituted a reinforced concrete frame. The spaces between the columns and beams were then filled up with panels of brickwork to form what are known as “gable end walls”. Originally the brickwork panelling was designed as solid walls, but subsequently owing to a design change, the brickwork was designed as a cavity wall which was made up of an inner and an outer layers (or “leaves”) of brickwork with a cavity being present in between the two layers. To achieve a uniform external appearance, the faces of the vertical columns and horizontal beams of the reinforced concrete frame were covered with brick tiles. These brick tiles were laid over and affixed to the concrete slabs and pillars with a sand and mortar paste. In order for the external bricks to be made flush with the brick tiles, it was necessary to lay the bricks with some “overhang”, ie the laid bricks jutted out over the precipice of the concrete slab to the measurement of the thickness of the brick tiles. For our purpose, the bricks and brick tiles of the external walls are referred to as “wall claddings”.

7 The external walls and brick tiles are common property over which MCST has the management and control. The wall claddings failed at only one location, namely, the fifth storey of one of the gable end walls of Gemini block. MCST, however, carried out rectification works to all gable end walls of both the tower blocks. They also repaired the roof...

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