Angela McManus and Robert McManus v (First) City Link Development Company Limited; (Second) Scott Wilson Scotland Limited; and (Third) Lanarkshire Housing Association Limited, 22 December 2015 – liability to occupants of houses built on contaminated land

Outer House case relating to a development at Watling Street in Motherwell which was alleged to have been built on contaminated land. The McManuses sought damages from City Link Development Company (the Developer), Scott Wilson Scotland (which the McManuses claimed had been environmental consultants on the development project) and Lanarkshire Housing Association (from whom the McManuses had leased properties on Watling Street) after suffering illness which they said had resulted from vapour given off by the contamination.

The McManuses sought damages from City Link and Scott Wilson on the basis:

  1. that their illness had been caused by the fault of City Link and Scott Wilson in terms of the common law; and
  2. that City Link and Scott Wilson had breached the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (s33(1)(a)).

The McManuses also argued that the Housing Association had breached an implied term of their tenancy agreement, and were later in breach of certain provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001.

City Link
Common law fault
In terms of the common law, the McManuses argued that City Link knew or ought to have known that the property had not been properly investigated for contamination and had not ben remediated so as to be fit for residential development. However, the court found that reports produced by Scott Wilson were such that a layperson would have understood that the site was suitable for residential development. As such, City Link would only have been liable (1) if they had sufficient expertise to ascertain that Scott Wilson’s investigations had not been sufficient to determine that the site was fit for residential development or (2) if City Link owed a non-delegable duty of care (which can arise in respect of particularly hazardous operations) to the McManuses. The court found that, in the circumstances, neither applied in this case and City Link’s duty did not extend to checking Scott Wilson’s work meaning that City Link were not at fault.

Scott Wilson
Common law fault
Scott Wilson argued that it had not been employed as environmental consultants on the project and pointed to other contractors involved in the project who may have fulfilled that role. As such they argued that the McManuses’ case against them was irrelevant. However, Lord Jones found that the McManuses’ case against Scott Wilson was not bound to fail. It was noted that other contractors involved had been subordinate to Scott Wilson and that it would be possible for the McManuses to prove that it was Scott Wilson’s responsibility to investigate the contamination and to advise on the remediation necessary to make the site suitable for residential development. Further proceedings were allowed in that regard.

City Link and Scott Wilson
The 1990 Act
The MacManuses also argued that City Link and Scott Wilson had been responsible for depositing controlled waste on the site (contrary to s33(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990) when materials were redistributed around the site during remediation works. However, Lord Jones accepted arguments made by City Link and Scott Wilson to the effect that the works had taken place prior to the relevant provisions of the 1990 Act coming into force and could not give rise to liability under the act.

The Housing Association
The first property was held under an assured tenancy (in terms of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987)  until September 2002 and a secure tenancy (under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001) thereafter. The second property was also held by virtue of a secure tenancy. The court found that, in both situations, the Housing Associations obligations and duties related to the fabric of the let property itself and the McManus’s arguments which were based on the location and construction of the properties were irrelevant.

Time bar
The court also considered arguments to the effect that the McManuses case was time barred but the McManuses were given an opportunity to amend their pleadings and no decision was reached in that regard.

 The full judgement is available from Scottish Courts here.

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