Understanding & Modifying Key Construction Contract Terms

As I mentioned, I  was one of three amigos who spoke on a Construction Contract webinar last week.  We had a good turn out and lots of very astute questions during the Q&A portion.  While you will miss all of my witty insightful helpful commentary, you can check out the slides for my portion, on understanding and modifying key terms, here:

Drafting Construction Contracts

My comrades’ presentations can be found by visiting Chris’s blog (for payment provision issues) and Craig’s blog (for damages and dispute resolution issues).  Happy viewing!

Standard of Care for Engineers- the Jury Instruction (law note)

Not perfection I’ve previously talked about the standard of care for design professionals on construction projects. 

As you should be aware, the standard is reasonableness, not perfection.  To illustrate the point, consider a standard North Carolina jury instruction on the standard of care for engineers:

 “Under our law, a professional engineer is required to exercise that degree of care which a professional engineer of ordinary skill and prudence would exercise under the same or similar circumstances, and if the engineer fails to exercise such degree of ordinary skill and prudence under the same or similar circumstances, the engineer’s conduct would be negligence.”

For an architect, just substitute the word “architect” for “engineer” in the jury instruction above.    Sometimes it can be challenging to meet a client’s expectations, and some clients believe that plans should (and can) be perfect.  In your discussions about the project with the client, be sure the client has reasonable expectations.  It is not reasonable to expect perfection in design plans.  Unforeseen conditions, changing criteria, and differing code inspector interpretations are all to be expected.  Educate your client about typical errors & omissions at the start of the construction project.
 
Do you have a question about the standard of care?  Drop me an email at mbrumback@rl-law.com.  Be sure to sign up for email delivery of blog posts directly to your inbox so you never miss a post!
 

Yes? Never? Maybe? Contract Clauses for Architects & Engineers (Tue Tip)

Make plans to attend a free webinar specifically for design professionals.  Entitled “The Bright Gray Line: “Yes”, “Never”, and “Maybe” Contract Clauses for Design Professionals (and how to find the difference)”.

The presentation will highlight challenging contract clauses and approachs to evaluating, negotiating, and managing those clauses.  Among the clauses which will be discussed are those relating to indemnity, the standard of care, code compliance, and document ownership.

The seminar is sponsored by Hall & Company and  presented by attorney David Ericksen, President of Severson & Werson.

When:                  Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time:                   1:00 pm EDT

How:                    Click here to register

If you attend the webinar, let you know your thoughts afterwords.  I’m planning to attend as well, so we can compare notes.

Design Error and the Spearin Doctrine (Law note)

engineering plansDesign Error.  Two words that strike fear into the heart of any architect, engineer, or lawyer representing them.  Today’s post discussion is to discuss the different obligations of each of the parties on a construction project relating to design errors.

As discussed last week, designers have an obligation to design in accordance with a reasonable standard of care.  That does not mean that the plans and specifications are perfect, however.

While the contractor is not responsible for design errors, he does have a duty to report any design errors or omissions which he discovers during his review of the plans.  If he discovers any design errors, he must report them to the owner.  See, for example, AIA A201 3-2.2.

As we have also discussed, an owner also impliedly warrants the adequacy of the plans and specifications .  This is sometimes known as the “Spearin Doctrine,” after the seminal Supreme Court  case, US. v. Spearin, 248 U.S. 132 (1918).   In Spearin, a contractor sought to recover from the government for the government’s failure to provide accurate plans reflecting the overflow issues which preexisted at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,   The Court held:

[I]f the contractor is bound to build according to plans and specifications prepared by the owner, the contractor will not be
responsible for the consequences of defects in the plans and specifications, (Citations omitted). This responsibility of the owner is
not overcome by the usual clauses requiring builders to visit the site, to check the plans, and to inform themselves of the requirements of the
work. The duty to check plans did not impose the obligation to pass upon their adequacy to accomplish the purpose in view.

Id. at 136-137. The Spearin Doctrine has been faithfully followed in the North Carolina courts. See, e.g., City of Charlotte v. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, 103 N.C, App. 667, 407 S.E.2d 571 (1991); Burke Co Public School Bd of Education v Juno Construction Corp, 50 N.C App. 238, 273 S.E,2d 504 (1981).

One state court held, “[i]t is simply unfair to bar recovery to contractors who are mislead by inaccurate plans and submit bids lower than they might otherwise have submitted.” Battle Ridge Companies v. North Carolina Dept. of Transportation, 161 N.C. App. 156, 160, 587 S.E.2d 426 (2003), quoting Lowder v. Highway Comm., 26 N.C, App, 622, 638, 217 S.E.2d 682, 692, cert denied, 288 N.C. 393, 218 S.E.2d 467 (1975).

Obviously, the architect or engineer is the ultimate party responsible for design errors, but all parties play a role in identifying and minimizing the effect of such errors through prompt notification.

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Photo “pipes” by moonlight on celluloid via Flickr via Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

The Architect’s and Engineer’s “Standard of Care” (Law note)

drawing architectural plans

Architects and engineers are required to meet the appropriate standard of care for their work on a construction project.   Such a simple phrase is actually a very loaded statement.  What, exactly, is the “standard of care” that the design professional is required to meet?  This is one of the “terms of art” that lawyers love and everyone else tends to hate.

Basically, the “standard of care” is a shorthand description that states the designer owes a duty to perform reasonably well on the project.  How is “reasonably well” defined?  It is not perfection.  It is, however, the showing of “reasonable care” and performing the “level of skill and diligence those in engaged in the same profession would ordinarily exercise under similar circumstances.”  Again, what?  If you are an architect practicing in, for example, Raleigh, you will be presumed to:

1.  possess the required degree of learning, skills, and experience that is ordinarily possessed by similarly situated professionals in the community (that is, perform as well as other architects practicing in the Raleigh area);

2. use reasonable and ordinary care and diligence in the exercise of your skill to accomplish your professional tasks; and

3. use your best good professional judgment in performing your professional tasks.

Notice that nowhere did I say that the architect’s plans had to be perfect.  However, the plans do need to meet a “typical” standard.  They must meet the applicable Codes.  They must generally be sound.  But they do not have to be perfect.  (Question: Is there ever a perfect set of plans?).

Courts in North Carolina have spent a lot of time, and a lot of ink, discussing the deceptively simple concept of “standard of care,” but essentially this is how it is defined.  If you want to read caselaw discussing the standard, a good case is RCDI Const. Inc. v. Spaceplan/Architecture, Planning, & Interiors, PA., 148 F. Supp. 2d 607 (W.D.N.C. 2001).

Note for Contractors & Subcontractors

If you are not a licensed professional, are you off the hook?  No.  But your duties fall under the “implied duty of workmanship“.  Essentially, you have a duty to make sure your work is sufficiently free from defects such that it meets the requirements of the Contract documents.

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Photo Drawing up the plans (Doors & Windows) by Sailing “Footprints: Real to Reel” (Ronn ashore) via Flickr and made available via an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license.

 

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