GENERAL CONTRACTOR’S PROFESSIONAL MALPRACTICE / NEGLIGENCE CLAIM AGAINST DESIGN PROFESSIONAL

Untitled designA 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.)

 

No-Damage-For-Delay Provision

 

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.

 

Considerations

 

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 dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

DESIGN PROFESSIONAL NEEDS A LICENSE TO BE SUED FOR PROFESSIONAL NEGLIGENCE

imagesWith regard to claims for professional negligence, the Florida Supreme Court has explained that ‘where the negligent party is a professional, the law imposes a duty to perform the requested services in accordance with the standard of care used by similar professionals in the community under similar circumstances.’” Sunset Beach Investments, LLC v. Kimley-Horn and Associates, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D130a (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) quoting Moransais v. Heathman, 744 So.2d 973, 975-76 (Fla. 1999).

 

When it comes to professional negligence, two things are important:

 

1)  the person being sued is a professional under the law (person has special education, training, experience, and skill) and

2)   the standard of care for that professional (e.g, licensed, professional engineer).

  

In a recent case, an engineering intern—not, a licensed, professional engineer–was sued for professional negligence.   The Fourth District Court of Appeal held that an engineering intern is not a person that can be sued for professional negligence, unlike a licensed, professional engineer. Sunset Beach Investments, supra.

  

The Fourth District explained that an engineering intern, by way of example, is not a professional because an engineering intern does not maintain a license.  If the court treated an engineering intern as a professional than it would be walking down a slippery slope when it came to who is a professional and who is not.   Instead of walking down that slippery slope, the court stated: “At a minimum, in a profession where a license exists, the existence of a license is a valid barometer for determining whether a person is classified as a professional. “ Sunset Beach Investments, supra.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

 

 

 

A GENERAL CONTRACTOR NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND CERTAIN LEGAL DOCTRINES BEFORE SUING A STATE (INCLUDING AGENCY OR SUBDIVISION) AND DESIGN PROFESSIONAL THAT IT DID NOT HIRE

HIGHWAY-CONSTRUCTION-1The recent Florida district court case, Posen Construction, Inc. v. Lee County, et al., 2013 WL 375430 (M.D.Fla. 2013), ruling on various motions to dismiss, is an interesting case that discusses two important doctrines. In this case, a roadway contractor constructing a road project for Lee County sued Lee County and Lee County’s design professionals (hired by the County) for delays and additional costs it incurred in the performance of its work. This case, among other things, discusses a state’s (inclusive of a state agency or subdivision) sovereign immunity for claims for additional work (absent a change order) and the duty of care for purposes of a negligence claim that a design professional owes to a general contractor (when the general contractor did not hire the design professional).

 

The first doctrine is known as the Miorelli doctrine which refers to a state’s (or its agencies or subdivisions) soverign immunity for extra-contractual work claims that arise on a construction project. The Miorelli doctrine is based on the Florida Supreme Court case, County of Brevard v. Miorelli Engineering, Inc., 703 So.2d 1049 (1998). The Miorelli doctrine, as maintained by the Posen court, has evolved into the following doctrine: “A claim for damages predicated on work ‘totally outside the terms of the contract’ is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity [unless memorialized in a written executed change order], whereas damages caused by extra work done at the state’s behest and in furtherance of contractual covenants (express or implied) are potentially recoverable.” Posen Construction, supra at *3 citing Miorelli, 703 So.2d at 1051. In applying the Miorelli doctrine, the Posen court expressed:

 

“To be clear, if Posen’s [contractor] claim is predicated on work ‘totally outside the terms of the contract’ it will fail by application of the Miorelli decision. On the other hand, claims for damages caused by additional work performed in furtherance of either express or implied covenants of the written contract  fall within Florida’s implied waiver of sovereign immunity…”

 

If a contractor is suing a state (or a state agency or subdivision) for additional costs that are not memorialized in a written executed change order, it is important that the contractor is aware of the Miorelli doctrine in order to best craft arguments to potentially recover the additional costs. The reason being is that the contractor can almost be certain that the state will raise the Miorelli doctrine through the motion to dismiss and/or summary judgment stages to establish that the state has sovereign immunity for such claims and damages. The key is that the argument should center on the additional costs being covered by the expansive scope of work set forth in the contractor’s contract with the state versus constituting work that is materially different than what the contractor bargained for.

 

The second doctrine is known as the A.R. Moyer doctrine which refers to a design professional’s duty of care to a general contractor on a construction project (when there is no contractual privity between the contractor and design professional). The A.R. Moyer doctrine is based on the Florida Supreme Court case, A.R. Moyer v. Graham, 285 So.2d 397 (Fla. 1973). In A.R. Moyer, a contractor sued a supervising architect in negligence. The Florida Supreme Court in A.R. Moyer maintained:

 

Each of the [following] conditions would present a cause of action [in negligence against a supervising architect or engineer]: (a) supervising architect or engineer is negligent is preparation of plans and specifications; (b) the supervising architect or engineer negligently causes delays in preparation of corrected plans and specifications; (c) the supervising architect or engineer negligently prepared and negligently supervised corrected plans and specifications; (d) the supervising architect or engineer failed to award an architect’s certificate of completion of the project; (e) the architect or engineer was negligent in exercise of supervision and control of contractor…” Posen Construction, supra, citing A.R. Moyer, 285 So.2d at 402.

 

Stated differently, the design professional must have a supervisory role or element of control (also referred to as a close nexus to the contractor) in order for the design professional to owe a legal duty to the contractor. The Posen court clarified that “supervising architects and engineers are liable for the foreseeable injuries to general contractors proximately caused by their negligent conduct even where there is an absence of contractual privity, whereas nonsupervising engineers and architects—irrespective of when they are hired—will not be.” Posen Construction, supra, at *12.

 

If a contractor is suing a design professional in negligence, it is important for the contractor to understand the A.R. Moyer doctrine and that the required legal element of “duty” is based on the supervisory status of the architect or engineer. This will allow the contractor to best phrase legal theories knowing that the design professional will raise this doctrine at the motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment stages. However, absent this supervisory status or close nexus between the design professional and general contractor, the design professional will not be deemed to owe a legal duty to the contractor.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

A CONSULTING ENGINEER / ARCHITECT’S PROTECTION FROM A NEGLIGENCE CLAIM BY A CONTRACTOR

imagesThe case of Recreational Design & Construction, Inc. v. Wiss, Janney Elstner & Associates, Inc., 2011 WL 5117163 (S.D.Fla. 2011), is a recent case discussing whether an independent engineering firm hired as a consultant by an owner can be liable to the general contractor for professional negligence under Florida law.  In this case, the City of North Miami Beach (“City”) hired a contractor to perform all design and construction services for a water slide project (“Contractor”).  The City also hired a separate engineering firm to evaluate and perform inspections of the contractor’s work (“Engineer”).  The engineering firm hired another engineering firm as a subconsultant to perform the engineering inspections (“Subconsultant”).

 

 

The Subconsultant issued a report to the Engineer that was provided to the City explaining that the water slide the Contractor designed and started to construct was structurally unsafe.  The report recommended repairs to be implemented on the slide.  The City rejected the Contractor’s work based on the Subconsultant’s recommendation and required the Contractor to implement the repairs before completing the work.

 

 

The Contractor, instead of suing the City, sued the Engineer and Subconsultant for professional negligence (also known as professional malpractice) to recover its costs in reconstructing the slide and implementing the repairs recommended to the City.  Both the Engineer and Subconsultant moved to dismiss the Contractor’s complaint arguing that they did not owe a duty of care to the Contractor; therefore, they could not be liable in negligence to the Contractor under the law.  The Southern District of Florida agreed with the Engineer and Subconsultant and dismissed the Contractor’s complaint with prejudice.

 

 

In order to be liable for professional negligence, a plaintiff must prove the following elements against the defendant-professional: 1) the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff; 2) the defendant breached its duty of care; and 3) the breach of the duty of care proximately caused damages to the plaintiffSee Recreational Design & Construction, 2011 WL at *2 citing Moransis v. Heathman, 744 So.2d 973, 975 n.3 (Fla. 1999).   The element of duty, however, is a question of law in Florida and must be determined by the court before a negligence case proceeds to the jury or trier of factSee Wallace v. Dean, 3 So.3d 1035, 1046 (Fla. 2009).

 

The Contractor relied on the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in A.R. Moyer, Inc. v. Graham, 285 So.2d 397 (Fla. 1973), in arguing that the Engineer and Subconsultant owed the Contractor a duty to perform its work and issue recommendations to the City with reasonable care and due diligence.  In A.R. Moyer, the Florida Supreme Court held that a general contractor can maintain a cause of action against a supervising architect for the architect’s negligent performance of a contractual duty (even though the contractor has no contractual privity with the architect).  Particularly, the Florida Supreme Court found that the following circumstances would present a professional negligence cause of action by the contractor against a supervising architect or engineer:

 

“(a) supervising architect or engineer is negligent in preparation of plans and specifications; (b) the supervising architect or engineer negligently causes delays in preparation of corrected plans and specifications; (c) the supervising architect or engineer negligently prepared and negligently supervised corrected plans and specifications; (d) the supervising architect or engineer negligently failed to award an architect’s certificate upon completion of the project; (e) the architect or engineer was negligent in exercise of supervision and control of contractor.”  A.R. Moyer, 285 So.2d at 402.

 

 

Of importance, the “professional defendant [in A.R. Moyer] was an architect whose responsibilities on the relevant project were to prepare the designs and plans for the project, approve the overall structural components or framework for the project, and supervise the general contractor’s execution of those plans, including having the authority to halt the contractor’s work.”   Recreational Design & Construction, 2011 WL at *4.   In other words, A.R. Moyer dealt with more of a traditional architect or engineer that, among other things, served as the architect / engineer-of-record for the project and had detailed contract administration services that enabled them to make decisions that could effect the contractor, which is why the Court described the professional as a supervisory architect or engineer.

 

 

But, in Recreational Design & Construction, the Engineer and Subconsultant, were really nothing more than a consultant providing expert-related services issuing recommendations, advice, or suggestions to the City in which the City could accept or reject.  The Engineer and Subconsultant did not serve as the engineer-of-record.  They did not design the plans for the City’s project. They did not issue specifications for the project.  They were not performing supervision to ensure that the Contractor’s construction complied with their design (since they were not the designer).  And, they did not have authority to halt the construction of the project or issue corrective details directly to the Contractor.  Instead, as previously mentioned, their services were truly within the realm of consulting services in which it was up to the City to determine how it wanted to utilize any suggestions, advice, or recommendations.   For these reasons, and because the role of the Engineer and Subconsultant in this case was substantially different than the role of the architect in A.R. Moyer, the Southern District held they did not owe a duty of care to the Contractor.  See also McElvy, Jennewein, Stefany, Howard, Inc. v. Arlington, Elec., Inc., 582 So.2d 47 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991) (finding that architect did not owe duty to subcontractor because architect was required to issue advice to owner regarding interpretation of architect’s design, but it was the owner responsible for making the ultimate decision based on the advice of the architect).

 

 

An architect or engineer that is serving as the architect / engineer-of-record for a construction project may want to implement certain language in their contract with the owner that while it will render certain advise, recommendations, or suggestions to the owner regarding its design and specifications and interpretations thereof, it is the owner that is required to render the ultimate decision regarding the advice, suggestions, and recommendations.  This way, if the contractor does pursue a professional negligence claim against them, they can argue they were not a supervisory architect or engineer and should not be deemed to owe a duty to the contractor because it was the owner that made the ultimate decision that affected the contractor.

 

 

Also, owners on construction projects sometimes hire other consultants or experts to assist in the construction of their project.  For instance, sometimes owners hire a building envelope consultant or a glazing consultant, etc.  These consultants sometimes worry about the contractor asserting a negligence claim against them based on their advice, suggestions, and recommendations made to the owner.  These consultants, however, should be able to rely on the arguments in Recreational Design & Construction to support they do not owe a duty to the contractor.  These consultants can also employ the same contractual language suggestions above so that their contract specifically expresses that it is the owner that is required to act on the advice, suggestions, and recommendations of the consultant so that it remains understood that the owner, and not the consultant, has ultimate control over the contractor’s work.

 

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.