When property owners claim they found a construction defect, it is common for them to hold the contractor or builder liable for the damage it caused – and for fixing the defect.
However, the builders are not the only parties who could be responsible for a construction defect. Property owners might also try to blame the designer or architect. Architecture and design firms must prepare for this risk, but they also must be aware: when could they face legal action over a construction dispute?
It always depends on the contract
It is important to note that the architect’s liability for potential or manifested defects often depends entirely on the contract. Since written contracts are required in California for construction projects, there will be a written record of the architect’s responsibilities. For example, the contract should define the scope of work for the architect regarding a particular project, such as:
- The timeline and procedure of the project;
- What services the architect must provide; and
- The process for payment.
To reduce the risk of liability, the contract should also include a dispute-resolution clause as well as a clear outline of the architect’s responsibilities. These contract elements are critical to help architecture firms avoid litigation.
So, when could architects face liability?
If the contract lacks an outline of an architect’s responsibilities or liability, architecture firms could face legal issues stemming from:
- The design itself;
- Failure to find defects during inspections; or
- Noncompliance with the city or state codes.
Essentially, if a defect results from architects failing to fulfill the responsibilities specified in the contract, then they could face legal liability. Even if there are no errors in the design, any issues pertaining to the architect’s responsibilities could lead to complex legal issues.
Like any construction defect case, issues in the design or other concerns might not appear until later. Architecture firms should ensure they keep careful documentation of their designs, inspections and any issues of note from each project. Firms should also consult an experienced attorney to protect their best interests and minimize the risks they face.