Mr and Mrs Pratchett (P) were appealing against an earlier ruling that the defendant trade association did not owe the couple a duty of care as a result of statements made on their website that the couple had acted on. P had obtained a list of members of the trade association from their website and from this chosen someone to install a swimming pool in their garden. The contractor became insolvent during the course of the installation and did not complete the works. P initiated proceedings against the association on the basis that the contractor did not carry out the works with due skill and care and sought to recover the additional costs they had incurred as a result of this failing from the association on the basis of negligent mis-statement, that being the inclusion of the contractor on their website without clear indication that he was not a full member, only an affiliate and that, as such, was not subject to the same vetting as a full member and would not benefit from the bond and warranty scheme.
The Court of Appeal, dismissed the appeal, on the basis that there was no duty of care despite the representations on the website, a lack of clear indication that there were different types of membership and the association’s knowledge and expectation that people would act upon the representations, because the association had also requested that users of the website obtain an information pack from the association. The Court of Appeal stated that the association could reasonably expect that potential customers consider all the information on the website and not just part of it. The Court highlighted that, had P obtained the information pack, as the website requested, it would have been clear that the contractor they chose was not a full member and so wasn’t covered by the association’s warranty. Given therefore that the website had made clear that further information was available and urged potential customers to obtain this there could be no assumption that the association had legal responsibility for the accuracy of statements contained on the website to those that did not obtain this additional information (such as P). The association had not, and could not be expected to, place full reliance on the statements contained on the website as it had made clear on the website that further information was available and should be obtained. The Court of Appeal held therefore that it would not be fair, just and reasonable to find a relationship of sufficient proximity between P and the association to impose a duty of care in this instance. Customs and Excise Commissioners v Barclays Bank Plc (2006) followed. The court however did make clear that, whilst in this instance there was no duty of care, statements on websites might, depending on the circumstances, give rise to liability.
Despite this ruling where a body is recommending a provider as ‘approved’ care should be taken to ensure that those acting on such information are fully aware of any limitations to the checks that might have been expected to ensure that a duty of care does not arise.