An architect owes a duty to exercise skill, care and diligence which may be reasonably expected of a person of ordinary competence. Architects possessing special skills may be held to an elevated standard. Architects are generally not taken to have guaranteed a perfect plan or successful results.
In State ex rel. Risk Management Div. of Fin. & Admin. v. Gathman-Matotan Architects & Planners, 98 N.M. 790 (N.M. Ct. App. 1982), the New Mexico court stated that traditionally, architects, along with other professionals such as doctors and lawyers, do not promise a certain result. The professional is usually employed to exercise the customary or reasonable skills of his profession for a particular job. The professional or architect “warranties” his/her work only to the extent that s/he will use the skill customarily demanded of his/her profession.
However, they agree by implication to exercise reasonable judgment, competence, skill and diligence in doing a work. Therefore, an architect’s failure of the implied warranty or duty to exercise reasonable judgment, skill and care in doing a work gives rise to an action under contract for negligent services. In Wheeler Peak, LLC v. LCI2, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91736 (D.N.M. Oct. 29, 2008), the court opined that the existing implied warranty to use reasonable skill gives an action under contract for negligent services, with the requisite proof of lack of reasonable or customary skill.
The courts opinion about an architect’s warranty varies according to the different jurisdictions. Some courts consider that an architect’s express warranty promises to achieve a specific result as the architect conforms to the standards of his/her profession; while some other courts consider that architects do not impliedly warrant that their service will be fit for the use intended and architects exercise their own judgment in situations where uncontrollable factors are common thereby freeing themselves of guaranteed satisfaction. However, there cannot be any recovery against an architect for any personal injury or wrongful death if it is found that the architect’s negligence was not the proximate cause of the personal injury of wrongful death sued for.
An architect is expected to exercise reasonable care in preparation of architectural designs. Therefore, if an architect is aware that the design of a project entails risk, such architect may owe the client a duty to warn of the risk. An architect shall be liable when someone is injured or killed because of an unsafe erected structure or when the design or plan fails to take proper measure for the safety of people on the premises.
An architect shall also be held liable for the economic losses to contractors or purchasers of the project, resulting from the architect’s negligent designs or plans. In Atl. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Jardis Indus., 290 Fed. Appx. 940 (7th Cir. Ill. 2008), the court held that one who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which s/he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability to such third person for physical harm resulting from his/her failure to exercise reasonable care to protect his undertaking if (a) his/her failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm, or (b) s/he has undertaken to perform a duty owed by the other to the third person, or (c) the harm is suffered because of reliance of the other or the third person upon the undertaking.
Generally, privity of contract is not a prerequisite to the liability of an architect for personal injury or death caused due to improper or defective designs or plans. Some courts have opined that an architect’s liability is limited to the extent of injury or death resulting from latent design defects. Some other courts have declared that an architect may properly be held liable for personal injuries caused by a defective design or plan or specification irrespective of the obviousness of such defect.
Apart from the defective designs or plans, an architect may also be liable for death or personal injury or economic losses based on such architect’s supervisory duties. An architect’s duty to inspect or supervise construction does not require exhaustive and continuous inspection, but an architect owes a general duty to see that the construction of the building meets the plans, designs or specifications.
An architect’s control or lack of control of the construction site is a crucial factor in establishing liability for accidents on the jobsite. Where such a responsibility to supervise is absent, an architect shall incur no liability for injuries to workers proximately caused by ordinary negligence at the site.