High Court rejects negligence claim over $5m trust fund

A woman’s claim for negligence against a law firm has been rejected by the High Court.

Tina Chantal Joseph has expected to be left a significant sum from the estate of her late friend, multi-millionaire Peter Cundill.

Before his death in 2011, Cundill had attempted to give Joseph $10 million from a trust fund of which he was a discretionary beneficiary.

Whilst the request was initially rejected by the trustees, they eventually agreed to pay her a sum of $5 million through periodical payments.

After these payments were stopped in 2009, Joseph brought a negligence claim against Farrer & Co; the trustees alleged this was due to her interfering in care arrangements.

Joseph contested that despite this, the firm should not have permitted the ceasing of payments, and instead kept her informed about any worries they had.

She also stated that she was a party to Cundill’s retainer and that the firm owed her a contractual duty to ensure the gift was received.

However, Joseph’s claim was rejected, with the court ruling that Farrer & Co, in regard to the work conducted, did not owe a duty of care to her.

Whilst Cundill had told Joseph that he’d wanted to amend his care and living arrangements, it emerged this was only to placate her; he had told the trustees and lawyers that he was content with the arrangements.

Judge Purle QC stated that any duty imposed would in this instance be inappropriate. In receiving the gift, Joseph had accepted the risk of the trustees changing their mind – prevention of the payments ceasing was not the duty of the firm.

Praising the approach of Richard Parry, a partner of Farrer’s, Purle stated:  “Indeed, it is impossible not to read the many reams of paper that have been put before me without feeling a great deal of admiration for the obvious conscientiousness towards the interests of his client, Mr Cundill, that Mr Parry showed and the delicate balance that he sought to achieve between giving effect to his client’s wishes and ensuring that he was not the victim of his own folly.”

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