This essay begins by laying down the facts of the case at hand, it will then proceed with an analysis of the decision made by the High Court of Australia, the prior rulings (meaning, how did the courts decide in the older cases) and finally, providing a discussion on the important policy implications arising from the case…
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This case began in 1987 when the Eagle Star Nominees, Inc., designated as trustees for the BSL Growth Trust Company, engaged a company doing engineering work to design foundations for a warehouse and offices in Townsville. When the building’s construction had been finished, the trustee Eagle Star then decided to sell the property to the plaintiff. In the contract of sale, there was no warranty indicating that the building had no defects. Likewise, the buyer did not conduct any building inspection, survey before purchase, or any sort of appraisal to determine whether or not the building had been constructed in an optimal manner. Also, there was no assignment in contract by the vendor of the rights to proceed against others in case of defects.
Just more than a year after the property had been turned over, the defects become apparent. The building had unmistakable structural distress and this was because of how the foundations were arranged, as well as the material below the foundations. The buyer filed a case against the engineering company and its employee, stating that the company owed a duty of reasonable care in designing the foundations of the building and ensuring the safety of the premises. In response, the company said that they owed no such duty of care to the buyer and that they were not at fault, because they in fact had asked the trustee to allow them to do soil tests, however they were told that such soil tests were not necessary and to simply use structural footing sizes. A lawsuit for damages was then filed, and the main question that the courts were tasked to respond to was: “Whether or not a subsequent buyer of commercial property had the right to sue the builder for design malfunctions?” The court ruled against the buyer and ruled that the duty of care owed to a subsequent or remote purchaser by the engineer that built the foundation of the building in question does not hold when the defective building is used for commercial purposes. This means that there is no case that can be filed against the engineer by the subsequent buyer because the building was not used as a dwelling, but rather as a commercial establishment. Previous Jurisprudence It is difficult to talk about Woolcock without talking about the progenitor case, Bryan v. Maloney. [(1995) 182 CLR 609, 616–17, 623 (Mason CJ, Deane and Gaudron JJ) (‘Bryan’)]. In that case, the plaintiff was able to successfully claim damages against the builder, despite the fact that she was a subsequent buyer of a residential property and the sale was concluded seven years after the property had been built. The plaintiff had inspected the house many times before purchasing it, with no observations made that there were any defects. However, after six months, it was discovered that there were cracks on the wall and this was because the builder had constructed footings that were inadequate to withstand the changes in the
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