Classic case studies

No.9 - 199 Knightsbridge Development Ltd v WSP UK Ltd

Ten cases every consulting engineer should know

199 Knightsbridge Development Ltd v WSP UK Ltd [2014] EWHC 43 (TCC)

In summary

This case highlights that even in circumstances where a professional is found to have breached his duty of care, if the steps that should have been taken would not have prevented the damage caused then the professional cannot be held liable for any losses arising.

While the judgment is specific to its own facts and did not constitute a new rule it is a useful reminder of the evidential burden on a claimant who must prove not only breach of duty but also loss and causation.


WSP had been retained as M&E engineer by KDL, the developer of a London apartment block, to design the cold water system for the block.  The system comprised 18 risers feeding from a ring main. 

In September 2005 the property was affected by serious flooding following two failures in the cold water pipework. 

Following an unscheduled shutdown of the water pumps the water system continued to be used so that it became partially drained down.  When the pumps were reactivated there was a surge in pressure due to a partial vacuum in the system. 

KDL argued that an unscheduled shut down of the cold water booster pumps could have been foreseen and in particular that WSP should have identified the risk of a potentially catastrophic failure arising out of this course of events.  Had they done so then the design would have taken this risk into account.

The court held that: 

WSP’s duties extended to considering the possibility of a catastrophic pressure surge and providing for this in their design.  The damage that occurred was of the type that WSP accepted could have been foreseen and each of the steps that gave rise to it could have been foreseen. The failure of the pipework would have been prevented if anti-surge valves had been used.  WSP could also have recommended a slow re-fill procedure so as to deal with an unexpected shutdown of the pumps.

However, the court also found that KDL had failed to show that it would as a matter of fact have installed the valves even if WSP had recommended them.  And even if KDL had agreed to install the valves, it failed to show that these or other similar steps would have been taken in time to prevent the damage to the system and the associated water damage. Furthermore KDL failed to satisfy the court that any re-fill procedure that WSP might have specified would in fact have been followed by those who decided to restart the pumps.  

In summary, whilst the court agreed that WSP had breached its duty of care, KDL failed to prove to the court that the breach caused the losses it had suffered.   For that reason its claim failed.

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