Contract arbitrators' decisions are meant to be final and challenging them is always an uphill struggle. This point was illustrated by one case in which the High Court upheld a six-figure award to a local authority in respect of a defectively designed storm culvert.
The council had employed an engineering consultancy to design the culvert beneath the promenade of a seaside town. Following completion of the project, damage was sustained to the roof of the culvert and cracks appeared in the promenade above. Security gates were also damaged by waves and debris. The council referred the dispute to an arbitrator, who awarded it £187,967 in respect of the culvert and £27,424 in respect of the gates.
In challenging those decisions, the consultancy argued that the arbitrator was wrong to reject its plea that the damage was caused by construction, as opposed to design, defects. The arbitrator was said to have wrongly excluded certain expert evidence and to have reached crucial conclusions on the basis of his own knowledge, rather than evidence adduced before him.
In rejecting those arguments, however, the Court found that the arbitrator's decision disclosed no serious error or irregularity. He was entitled to prefer the evidence of one expert over another in finding that the roof of the culvert was inadequate to bear foreseeable loadings. He was also justified in finding that the design of the gates was inadequate and that construction errors were immaterial.