Liability For Negligently Prepared Plans

Architects and engineers have recently been held liable to persons other than their clients and on a variety of claims resulting from negligently prepared building plans.

Naturally, design professionals are liable to their clients for any damages suffered because of negligence. But the growing body of law has expanded the architect/engineer liability by permitting recovery by others, including contractors and subcontractors.

Typical of these cases is the New Jersey Superior Court decision in Conforti & Eisele v. John C. Morris Assoc., 418 A.2d 1290 (N. J. Sup. 1980). That decision held that a contractor would be entitled to recover his economic damages resulting from the architect/engineer's negligence in preparing faulty mechanical plans even though there was no contractual relationship between the contractor and the architect/engineer.

In years past the result would have been different based upon a "privity" theory which generally limited one's liability to those with whom he had some contract relationship. That doctrine has been eroded by the courts NECESSARY since early this century. Most have permitted persons injured to recover even though there had been no privity.

A number of recent cases, typified by the New Jersey decision cited above, discard the privity doctrine in suits seeking damages for economic loss as well as claims for personal injuries. These cases rule that one should not escape the consequences of his negligence simply because the injured party was a stranger. The test is whether the victim was someone who foreseeably might have been injured by the negligence involved.

Thus, the architect or engineer is held liable if his negligence caused someone else to suffer, regardless of whether his suffering is a broken back or additional expenses resulting from time delays or other consequences of defective plans.

It should also be noted that contractors are also generally permitted to recover damages from owners if they suffer from the owner's having furnished defective plans prepared by the architect-engineer. The theory involved is that the owner impliedly represents to the contractor that the plans furnished by the owner were adequate for the performance of the contractor's work. In this situation the owner may recover his loss against his architect.

The effect of these recent decisions is that contractors and subcontractors may be able to look to others for recovery of damages they suffer as a result of the defective plans. To the architect/engineer it means expanded exposure and risk. Obviously, greater care exercised in preventing deficiencies in plans would solve everyone's problems.

Oh, perfection!