Architects and Construction Defects

Architectural Insurance

Court rules they’re liable despite unauthorized changes to plans

A recent California Supreme Court ruling may result in fewer architects designing residential projects. Earlier this year ,the court ruled in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP, that the principal architect of a residential building owed a “duty of care to future homeowners,” despite the fact that they didn’t actually build or exercise control over the project or during construction.

A San Francisco residential building was originally rented but sold two years later as condominiums. After the sale, the Beacon Residential Community Homeowners Association filed suit against the property developer, contractor, and architect, alleging construction defects. Allegations included inadequate ventilation due to the building design and solar heat gain that resulted from the installation of substandard windows that were approved by the defendants. Skidmore argued that their input was only a recommendation for the design, and they had no control over any decisions the owner made on construction of the building. A trial court sided with the architect, but the decision was reversed by the California Supreme Court.

The trickle-down effect on architects and developers

The result of this ruling is that homeowners associations can now hold architects liable for residential design defects, even in cases when the architect offers no input into the final decisions regarding construction.

In the wake of this ruling, architects will probably be more prudent when deciding to sell their plans unless it can be documented that projects are built as originally designed or that owners made changes without consulting with and getting approval from the architect. They may even be skeptical about offering engineering recommendations and other suggestions. The bottom line is that finding architects to do residential project work will become more difficult and owners can expect to be charged higher fees.

The need for protection

The solution is Architects Errors & Omissions insurance, which will protect from the types of liability issues that will surely develop from this case. If claims and legal defense costs mount, carriers will apply rate increases or will have stricter underwriting guidelines.

Source: Meredith Jones-McKeown, “Principal Architects on Residential Projects Liable for Construction Defects Outside Their Control; Developers and Owners May Pay the Price,”, 22 July, 2014.

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