The difference between a design specification and a performance specification is important under what is known as the Spearin doctrine–the implied warranty of constructability doctrine–based on the United Supreme Court case U.S. v. Spearin, 248 U.S. 132 (1918). The Spearin doctrine is recognized in Florida. See Martin K. Eby Const. Co., Inc. v. Jacksonville Tranp. Authority, 436 F.Supp.2d 1276 (M.D.Fla. 2005).
Under the Spearin doctrine, a general contractor is not liable for defects in the plans and specifications furnished by the owner if it constructs the project pursuant to the plans and specifications. This is because the owner impliedly warrants the plans and specifications that it furnishes to its contractor. The Supreme Court in Spearin stated:
“[I]f the contractor is bound to build according to plans and specifications prepared by the owner, the contractor will not be responsible for the consequences of defects in the plans and specifications. This responsibility of the owner is not overcome by the usual clauses requiring builders to visit the site, to check the plans, and to inform themselves of the requirements of the work….”
Travelers Cas. And Surety Co. of America v. U.S., 74 Fed.Cl. 75, 89 (2006) citing Spearin, 248 U.S. at 136.
There are many cases discussing the application and limitations of the Spearin doctrine arising from federal government contract law. What is important is that the Spearin or implied warranty of constructability doctrine applies to design specifications and does not apply to performance specifications. See Martin K. Eby, 436 F.Supp.2d at 1308 (“The purpose of the Spearin doctrine is to allow contractors to recover when the government [owner] does not fulfill the responsibility it has undertaken in preparing and supplying design specifications.”)
So, what is the difference between a design and performance specification? The difference between these two types of specifications is best described as as follows:
“Design specifications dictate the ‘how’ governing a contractor’s tasks, in contrast to performance specifications, which concern the ‘what’ that is to be done…The relevant inquiring [as to the distinction between these specifications] concerns quality and quantity of the obligations that the specifications impose. Hence, detailed measurements, tolerances, materials, i.e., elaborate instructions on how to perform the contract qualify as design specifications. In other words, where the specifications are described in precise detail and permit the contractor no discretion, they are design [specifications]. In contrast, where the specifications set forth simply an objective or standard and leave the means of attaining that end to the contractor, they are performance [specifications].”
Travelers Cas. And Surety Co. of America, 74 Fed.Cl. at 89; See also Martin K. Eby, 436 F.Supp.2d at 1308, n.47 (“Design specifications explicitly state how the contract is to be performed and permit no deviations. Performance specifications, on the other hand, specify the results to be obtained, and leave it to the contractor to determine how to achieve those results.”) (internal quotations and citation omitted).
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