Misleading Websites – Court of Appeal Ruling

Any charity or association website owner should be aware of the liability arising from misleading website statements. A recent Court of Appeal case – Patchett & Another v Swimming Pool & Allied Trades Association Limited (SPATA) – highlights a website owner’s potential liability to visitors to the site for misleading claims made on it. The case revolved around a couple that wished to chose an expert and reliable contractor to install a swimming pool. The couple used the Trade Association’s website to access a list of members and their locations. Mr. & Mrs. Patchett relied on a statement on the website: “One way of guaranteeing that the pool installation company has the expertise, is to make sure that they are a member of the Association before contacting them for a quotation”. The Association also claimed: “Pool installer members are fully vetted before being admitted to membership with checks on their financial record, their experience in the trade and inspections of their work”. The Patchetts selected their installer through the website but before the project was completed, the installer became insolvent and the Patchetts claimed £44,000 for losses suffered from the Association. The action was taken on the grounds that the website misled by its statements and that the Association had breached its duty of care. The case was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, only on a majority verdict and because the couple had failed to request additional information offered through an “information pack”. The insolvent installer had only been an “affiliate” member who had not been vetted by the Association and whose potential liabilities were not covered by the Association’s Warranty Scheme. This information could have been discovered had the information pack been requested – a pack which would have suggested appropriate questions to ask of any potential installer. The dissenting judge on the panel felt that the couple should have been able to rely on the website without the need to enquire further. A different panel could easily have found against the Association. The learning point here is that your website should carry suitable legal disclaimers and the wording should be created by your solicitor rather than your website designer.