by Tim O’Dwyer M.A., LL.B
A company within the Herron Todd White group lost a High Court appeal not too long ago on how much damages would compensate former clients for negligent valuation advice. HTW Valuers (Central Queensland) Pty Ltd had to pay damages of $406,194.60, another hundred thousand dollars or so for interest plus legal costs around $600,000.00.
The original valuation fee was $250.00 – calculated on two and a half hours work at $100.00 per hour.
Moral: No matter how small the fee, how simple the matter, property professionals – valuers, solicitors, agents, planners, etc. – must be careful. Get it wrong, and damages could result if your clients act to their detriment on your flawed advice.
No matter how innocent they may be, wronged property consumers must sometimes endure huge legal and emotional costs before they get just compensation. Witness this case. It went from a Supreme Court of Queensland trial to the Court of Appeal, to the High Court on a leave application, then again for final determination. It took six and a half years and nine judges before Brisbane solicitor Marcus Johnson (and a couple of barristers) got up for his clients. A few years back a West Australian architect successfully survived a similar ordeal (with the assistance of his Perth solicitor and barristers) after suing an estate agent for misrepresentation.
In both cases the defendants were backed by insurers.
Herron Todd White, according to its website, is Australia’s largest independent property valuation and advisory group. Herron Todd White’s Mackay office in Central Queensland is run by Barry Deacon. This office, like others in the group, offers “services tailored to its local market” and is claimed to have “a detailed knowledge” of that market. In April 1997 John and Lyn Foster proposed to invest in commercial property near Mackay. After they became interested in an arcade of eight shops (part of a “strip commercial district”) in Sarina just south of Mackay, they sought valuation advice from Barry Deacon about “the plaza”.
The Fosters wanted to know if the plaza’s rentals were right, how they fitted into the Sarina market, about the demand for retail tenancies and the availability of tenants in the town.