In cases where an architect performs services beyond design, such as evaluations and observations during construction, the owner may choose to hold the architect liable if defects result in injuries. Under these circumstances, architects may be held liable even if there aren’t any omissions or errors in their designs.
Oftentimes, owners may hire architects to provide additional services throughout the construction of certain buildings. These duties may consist of occasional observation of the work to confirm whether the building is undergoing construction based on contract details, such as the architect’s drawings.
While this can help make sure that a project is successfully completed with the help of the architect, it could lead to owners finding the architect liable for certain construction defects.
Even if the architect’s specifications and designs contain no errors or omissions, owners may attempt to hold both the contractor and architect liable for defects discovered. The argument for this is that even if the contractor was behind the defect, the architect was responsible for observing the project and should have been able to identify and address the defect.
Whether the architect can actually be held liable for defects depends on their contract with the project owner. Many contracts may include details that require the architect to periodically observe the work, there are also often limitations regarding the architect’s responsibility. For example, some contracts may contain language stating that the architect doesn’t have any direct control over or responsibility for construction procedures and the failure to perform work based on contract details.
If that language is included in a contract, the architect may reason that they bear no responsibility for defects or any resulting damages, such as serious injuries or deaths.
Although some courts may support the architect’s argument against being held liable based on certain contractual language, most courts may still find the architect responsible for certain defects.
For instance, the courts might determine that the architect is still liable for defects due to the architect’s failure to “inspect reasonably.” When an architect is charged with observing construction sites, courts could argue in certain cases that the defects in question are so obvious that even minimal observation could have made the observer aware of them. This would mean that the architect failed to reasonably observe construction work, leading to unaddressed but preventable defects. Even if the architect observes defects, it is their responsibility to report these defects to the owner.
Generally, whether an architect is found liable for defects and damages will depend on a few key factors. The first will be whether the owner charged the architect with periodic or full-time observation and evaluation, as courts will hold architects to higher standards for periodic reasonable observations. Additionally, courts will consider any exculpatory language included in contracts and determine if it absolves the architect of certain responsibilities. Performance is also key, as architects need to perform the observation and evaluation services as agreed.
If an architect fails to perform agreed-upon duties that lead to construction defects and subsequent injuries, they could ultimately share liability with contractors.