A recent case supports a professional malpractice (negligence) claim by a general contractor against a design professional by reversing a trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the design professional and finding a question of fact remained as to an architect’s role in the renovation of a public construction project. By the appellate court finding that a question of fact remained, the appellate court was finding that it was a triable issue, which is exactly what the general contractor wanted in this case. Getting this issue and the facts to the jury is the leverage the general contractor presumably wanted.
In Perez-Gurri Corp. v. Mcleod, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2487c (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), a general contractor was hired by Miami to renovate a public project. Miami’s prime consultant subcontracted with an architectural firm to prepare the design documents for the renovation. The construction of the project was delayed and the general contractor filed suit against the architectural firm and other design professionals for professional negligence. The general contractor’s theory was that the design professional’s professional negligence delayed construction thereby causing the general contractor to incur increased costs (such as extended general conditions).
Architectural Role or Services
The architect claimed it played no role in the project. It is uncertain from the opinion whether the architect was claiming it literally played no role in the project or whether its position was that its role was so limited that a duty was not owed to the general contractor. Either way, the court was focused on the role the architect played in the renovation of the project and held a question of fact remained as to the services or role the architect played in the construction of the project. This is a pretty loose standard because it presumably allows the jury to determine (i) whether the architect rendered services or performed a role on the project and, if so, (ii) whether the role or services caused a delay in the construction of the project. The reason this standard appears loose is because there isn’t any discussion as to the type of professional services or role that the architect must play for a duty to be extended to the general contractor. (For there to be a professional negligence claim against the architect, the architect must be deemed to owe a duty to the general contractor with respect to the services or role it is performing.)
This case also had a discussion regarding the no-damage-for-delay provision in the general contractor’s contract with the City. The trial court held that the architect was protected by this provision. (A no-damage-for-delay provision provides that a contractor’s exclusive remedy for delay is an extension of time, and it is not entitled to damages.) The appellate court reversed maintaining nothing in the no-damage-for-delay provision extended to the architect. And, the contract further provided there are no third party beneficiaries to the contract.
This recent opinion leads to a few important points.
First, as a general contractor, you ideally do not want to extend a no-damage-for-delay provision to anyone but the owner that hires you. From an owner’s perspective, if you want the no-damage-for-delay provision to benefit your consultants, you want to ensure that protection is clearly articulated in the no-damage-for-delay provision with a carve-out in the provision that references there are no third party beneficiaries.
Second, no-damage-for-delay provisions are not absolute, meaning there are exceptions to a no-damage-for-delay provision. There was no discussion as to the applicability of those exceptions here. Perhaps that is because the facts did not warrant the applicability of an exception or there was no need to go into such discussion since the no-damage-for-delay provision did not extend to the architect, or any design professional for that matter. But, the applicability of an exception could also raise a question of fact.
Third, and mentioned above, there is no discussion as to the role or services the architect must perform for a duty to be extended to the general contractor. Thus, even if the architect played a role or performed services, the case does not go into detail as to whether such role or services would even rise up to a level of the architect owing a duty to the general contractor. This is important since the issue of duty is typically a question of law for the court to decide.
Please contact David Adelstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.