A judge has dismissed Lendlease’s attempt to sue Aecom for £3m over fire-safety defects at a cancer centre it worked on in Yorkshire.
Justice Stephen Eyre said he would have found the consultancy liable for eight defects if Lendlease had brought the legal action about nine months earlier, but stated that a 12-year liability period had elapsed.
The High Court dispute centred on responsibility for a lack of fire compartmentation and other defects at a plant room of a new 13-storey oncology wing for St James’s University Hospital in Leeds (pictured). The hospital was built by Lendlease and completed in December 2007, funded through the government’s private finance initiative (PFI).
The case came after Lendlease was ordered to pay almost £8m to its former client in relation to 25 defects, following a previous court battle that ended in 2022, which came on top of a separate settlement in November 2021.
Lendlease claimed Aecom was responsible for 18 of the 25 defects it had paid out for.
Judge Eyre said Lendlease failed to establish Aecom’s responsibility for 10 of the defects. However, he added that Aecom would have been liable for at least £550,000 of damages due to its failings, had Lendlease’s case not been statute-barred.
Lendlease was appointed to the project in 2004 under a design and build contract. It then contracted Aecom to provide mechanical and electrical consultancy services on the 67,000 square metre, 300-bed unit.
St James’s Oncology SPC, the company set up to oversee the build and maintenance of the new cancer wing, was advised in 2018 that remedial works were necessary on one of the plant rooms due to fire-safety concerns.
The issues included a lack of fire separation between the equipment; inadequate protection to power supplies to the fire-fighting lift; and a lack of fire resistance to ductwork routed through the transformer rooms and into the service risers.
Engie Building, which was appointed to carry out maintenance over the 30-year lifetime of the PFI deal, was contracted in 2022 to install fire-resistance measures.
The two companies took Lendlease to court to recover the remediation costs. In October 2022, Justice Joanna Smith found Lendlease liable for £5,048,534.39 plus costs to St James’s Oncology SPC for nine defects. The parties previously settled a claim relating to 16 further defects out of court, with Lendlease paying St James’s Oncology SPC and Engie £2.9m.
Lendlease issued a claim against Aecom, alleging that £3m of the sum it paid was the consultant’s liability. Lendlease argued that the lack of fire compartmentation in the plant room, which did not comply with NHS rules, was a result of Aecom’s design.
The judge concluded that the nature of the agreement between Lendlease and Aecom meant there was a limitation period of 12 years after a breach, during which either party could bring a claim.
Since the case was brought on 30 May 2019, any breach by Aecom would have had to have taken place after 30 May 2007 for the firm to be found liable. Monthly reports indicated that the plant room was completed by August 2006, meaning the defects in question were outside of the limitation period.
However, the judge noted that Aecom “not only knew that there was in fact no compartmentation but it caused [mechanical, electrical and plumbing-installation subcontractor] Rotary to omit the installation of dampers on the penetrations between the partitions”.
The list of defects that he said Aecom would have been found liable for include: the construction of the plant room as a single fire compartment; an inadequate plant-replacement strategy; poor fire-stopping capabilities of the ductwork leading to the service riser; inadequate earthing in some of the medical locations; 15 instances where a fire damper should have been installed; and the absence of break tanks for laboratory hot-water systems.