Valuers’ negligence: no claim for more than lender loses

Not often do you find a Supreme Court decision in only 15 paragraphs that is clear, sensible and palpably right. Today we got just that in the valuers’ negligence decision of Tiuta International Ltd (in liquidation) v De Villiers Surveyors Ltd [2017] UKSC 77. Although a land case, this is of equal, and large, significance to ship and other finance.

In 2011 Tiuta lent £2.475 million for a bijou Home Counties development against a valuation by De Villiers of £2.3 million undeveloped / £4.5 million complete, of which no complaint was made. After some months the developers ran into difficulties. In 2012 Tiuta made a new loan of £3.088 million against the same development, of which £2.799 million went to discharge the old loan plus accrued interest, and the balance of £289,000 was new money. This latter advance was made against a new valuation by De Villiers in the sum of £3.5 million undeveloped / £4.9 million complete. Shortly after all this, the developers went bust and Tiuta lost big money.

Tiuta sued De Villiers for their loss, alleging negligence in the second valuation. De Villiers riposted that they could not possibly be answerable for more than £289,000, since even if they had not been negligent Tiuta would still have been exposed to the original, largely irrecoverable, balance of £2.799 million. To everyone’s surprise, a majority in the Court of Appeal disagreed. The 2011 loan had been paid off and was now out of the reckoning: the 2012 loan in the figure of £3.088 million counted as an entirely new advance made against the suspect valuation, and on principle any loss on it was recoverable. McCombe LJ, the dissentient, was left gasping and stretching his eyes (remember Hilaire Belloc’s Matilda?) at the idea that new money injection of a mere £289,000 could give Tiuta, free gratis and for nothing, a claim of up to £3 million that had not been there before.

The Supreme Court swiftly restored orthodoxy. Whether the lenders provided new money of £289,000 and left the existing loan of £2.799 million untouched, or provided a new loan of £3 million-plus which was partly used to pay off the original loan, the result was the same: the only net increase in exposure was £289,000 and that was all that was recoverable. Nor could Tiuta get home by saying that the repayment of the original loan was somehow a collateral benefit to Tiuta: as Lord Sumption observed with merciless logic, it was in fact neither collateral nor a benefit.

Advantage PI insurers, to be sure. On the other hand, this still leaves some questions unanswered. If the first lender had been someone other than Tiuta, the result would presumably have been different. Does this mean that if a lender wants to avoid the result in Tiuta, all it has to do is to make sure that when it lends several times to the same project, each loan is made by a separate subsidiary special purpose vehicle (quite easy to arrange)? One suspects lawyers are already busy dealing with questions like this and advising accordingly.

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