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Design Defects by Architects

Professionally, an architect’s decisions affect public safety. Hence it is important that an architect undergoes specialized training, consisting of advanced education and internship for practical experience, in order to earn a license to practice architecture. The practical, technical, and academic requirements for becoming an architect vary by jurisdiction.

Architects do not implicitly warrant or guarantee a perfect plan or satisfactory result.  When they bind themselves by contract to do a work or to perform a service however, they agree by implication to use reasonable care and skill performing the service.  Thus, breach by architects of the implied warranty or duty to use reasonable or customary care in the provision of professional services gives rise to an action under contract for negligent services[i].

Furthermore, according to some courts, in contrast to a promise implied by law, an architect’s “express warranty” promises that a specific result will be achieved, namely, that the work of the architect conforms to the standards of his or her profession.  According to other courts, however, such professionals as architects do not impliedly warrant that their service will be fit for the use intended; rather, professionals exercise individualized judgment in a situation where unknown and uncontrollable factors are common, thus freeing them of the obligation to guarantee satisfaction[ii].

At any rate, as in other negligence cases, there can be no recovery against the architect for personal injury or wrongful death if it is not proven that the architect’s negligence was the proximate cause of the personal injury or wrongful death sued for[iii].  In addition, liability requires a showing of the existence of a duty toward the person injured.

An architect is generally liable for forseeable consequences of the failure to exercise reasonable care in preparation of architectural designs.  Thus, an architect is liable when the design plans and specifications are faulty and defective[iv].  This liability may attach, for example, where an unsafe structure is erected and someone lawfully on the premises is injured or killed, or where the design otherwise fails to take proper measures for the safety of those on the premises.

An architect may also be responsible for the economic losses resulting from the architect’s negligent designs to contractors working on the project, or to the purchasers of the project. However, if the architect is following the specifications given by the owner for a specific purpose, the architect may not be liable if the specifications given to the architect were themselves defective.

Although it is generally recognized that privity of contract is not a prerequisite to the liability of an architect for personal injury or death caused by improper or defective plans, specifications, or designs, a number of courts have taken the position that an architect’s liability is limited to injury or death resulting from latent design defects.  However, it has also been declared by other courts that an architect may properly be held liable for personal injuries caused by an architectural design defect, regardless of the obviousness of the defect.

[i] Davencourt at Pilgrims Landing Homeowners Ass’n v. Davencourt at Pilgrims Landing, LC, 2009 UT 65 (Utah 2009)

[ii] R.J. Longo Constr. Co. v. Transit Am., 921 F. Supp. 1295 (D.N.J. 1996)

[iii] Spielvogel v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 127 A.D.2d 532 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t 1987)

[iv] Couch v. St. Croix Marine, Inc., 667 F. Supp. 223, 226 (D.V.I. 1987)

Inside Design Defects by Architects