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Asha Echeverria

Architects may be the General Contractor’s Keeper

By Asha Echeverria

In Suffolk Construction Co., Inc. v. Rodriguez and Quiroga Architects Chartered, the U.S. Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida held that under Florida law, a supervising architect may owe a duty to a general contractor despite a lack of privity between the architect and general contractor and therefore be liable to the general contractor for delays and costs caused by the Architect’s defective plans. No. 16-CV-23851-GAYLES, 2018 WL 1335185 (S.D. Fla. March 15, 2018).

Florida law aligns with Maine law in regard to the elements of a negligence claim: a plaintiff must allege: (1) a legal duty requiring the defendant to protect others from unreasonable risks, (2) breach of that duty, (3) a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury, and (4) damages. The first element, the duty, can arise from the general facts of the case because the plaintiff lies in “a foreseeable zone of risk arising from the acts of the defendant.” In such circumstances, the foreseeability analysis is fact specific.

Back in 1973, in A.R. Moyer, Inc. v. Graham, the Florida Supreme Court first held that despite a lack of privity, a supervising architect owed a duty to a general contractor. 285 So. 2d 397 (Fla. 1973). To reach this conclusion, the Court considered and balanced several factors, including “the extent to which the transaction was intended to affect the plaintiff, the foreseeability of harm to him, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, and the policy of preventing future harm.” Id. at 401. Applying the factors to the facts of the case, the Florida Supreme Court determined that, as a matter of public policy, the supervising architect had too much control over the general contractor not to owe him a legal duty.  Therefore, “a third party general contractor, who may foreseeably be injured or sustained an economic loss proximately caused by the negligent performance of a contractual duty of an architect, has a cause of action against the alleged negligent architect, notwithstanding absence of privity.” Id. at 402. The Florida Supreme Court emphasized the importance of the facts of the case, stating that the architect’s level of control over the contractor and the foreseeability of injury to the contractor due to the defective actions of the architect controls whether the architect owes a professional duty to the contractor. This was reconfirmed in 1993 when the Florida Supreme Court limited its ruling in Moyer “strictly to its facts.” Casa Clara Condo. v. Charley Toppino & Sons, Inc., 620 So. 2d 1244, 1248 n 9 (Fla. 1993).

 

Applying Moyer to this case, the federal court states that, in the absence of privity, a duty to support a negligence claim may be asserted on an architect who exerts some control over a contractor or a project. Control may be established where the architect or engineer has a supervisory role or where the architect or engineer acts with the knowledge that the general contractor will rely on its designs or plans, such actions place the general contractor within the foreseeable zone of risk and therefore a duty may be imposed.

Here, the general contractor’s allegations were sufficient to establish, at this phase of litigation, that the architect exerted control over it by its supervisory roles and/or preparation of plans on which the general contractor relied such that the claim survived a Motion to Dismiss.

Not sure if you are your subcontractor’s or general contractor’s keeper? We would be happy to discuss.