The Spearin doctrine, referred to as the implied warranty of constructability doctrine, is oftentimes utilized as an affirmative defense by a contractor being sued for construction defects. Under the Spearin doctrine (recognized in the government contract setting), a contractor is NOT liable for defects in the plans and specifications furnished by the owner if the contractor constructs the project pursuant to the plans and specifications. This is because the owner impliedly warrants the constructability of the plans and specifications it furnishes to the contractor. Hence, the contractor should not be liable for defective construction caused by the owner furnishing defective plans and specifications.
As with any affirmative defense, the contractor asserting the Spearin doctrine has the burden to prove the merits of the defense. Specifically, the contractor has the burden to prove that there was an error in the plans or specifications and that such error was the proximate cause of the defective construction. The contractor needs to prove this in order to sustain the Spearin doctrine as an affirmative defense. See, e.g., Underwater Engineering Services, Inc. v. Utility Board of the City of Key West, 194 So.3d 437, n. 4 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016) (“By raising this defense [of the Spearin Doctrine] Underwater [contractor] had the burden to prove not only that there was a defect in the specifications, but that the defect in the specifications was the proximate cause of the failure of the eight [concrete] collars.”); see also Rick’s Mushroom Service, Inc. v. U.S., 521 F.3d 1338, 1344-45 (Fed.Cir. 2008) (“‘When the government provides a contractor with defective specifications, the government is deemed to have breached the implied warranty that satisfactory contract performance will result from adherence to the specifications, and the contractor is entitled to recover all of the costs proximately flowing from the breach.’”) quoting Essex Electro Eng’rs, Inc. v. Danzig, 224 F.3d 1283, 1289 (Fed.Cir.2000).
Asserting the Spearin doctrine as an affirmative defense is one thing, but proving it is another. If relying on this defense, make sure to prove through expert testimony that there was (i) a defect in the plans or specifications furnished by the owner and (ii) that this defect proximately caused the defects or failures being asserted by the plaintiff (e.g., owner).
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