In construction defect lawsuits, subcontractors responsible for the alleged deficient work or damage are third-partied into the lawsuit by the general contractor that hired them. And, sometimes, an owner (or association) tries to assert a claim directly against responsible subcontractors. There are times where subcontractors have the defense that the deficiencies and damages complained of are the result of design errors and omissions. A question becomes whether a subcontractor can assert a negligence claim directly against that design professional as a way to flow any potential exposure to the design professional.
Unfortunately, there is case law that says that a supervising design professional does NOT owe any duty of care to a subcontractor. See Spancrete, Inc. v. Ronald E. Frazier & Associates, P.A., 630 So.2d 1197 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994) (duty of care that supervising architect owed to general contractor did not extend to subcontractors); McElvy, Jennewein, Stefany, Howard, Inc. v. Arlington Electric, Inc., 582 So.2d 47 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991) (trial court erred in allowing case to go to jury because architect’s duty of care could not have been extended to subcontractors); E.C. Goldman, Inc. v. A/R/C Associates, Inc., 543 So.2d 1268 (Fla. 5th DCA 1989) (consulting engineering/expert firm hired by owner to inspect and advise owner about roof owed no duty of care to roofing subcontractor). Without this duty of care, a subcontractor would NOT be able to pursue a negligence claim against the design professional because this duty of care is the very first element required to prove a negligence claim. (In order to prove a negligence claim, a plaintiff needs to prove that 1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, 2) the defendant breached that duty of care, 3) that breach proximately caused damages/injuries to the plaintiff, and 4) the plaintiff was damaged/injured.) This does mean the subcontractor cannot assert the design professional’s errors and omissions as a defense, it just means that it will be an uphill battle for a subcontractor to assert an affirmative claim against the design professional.
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