What is my design liability?
Q. What is my liability for design? The law does not usually imply a warranty from the architect or the engineer when employed to design a structure that where the work is carried out to his design the desired result will be achieved, but rather that he will use reasonable skill and care. Yet a reasonable standard of skill and care changes and is extended; as building products develop new skills are required. The positive duty placed upon the architect and engineer to use reasonable skill and care may lead to ‘defensive design’, the oversizing of structural members (whether or not new or traditional materials are selected) with the attendant increase in construction costs. It is justifiable only because of a fear that a structure will fail early in its life, though considerable care may have been taken in its design, and a professional fear of increased liability, a desire to escape the principle of 1% to blame 100% liable for damages. The failure of a building of ordinary design and well-used construction could in itself be evidence of a lack of competent skill on the part of an architect. But simply to state that there has been a negligent lack of care and skill, except in the simplest and most obvious cases, is insufficient; and indeed quite unjust without calling the ‘best evidence’, which need not necessarily be the evidence of experts. The ‘best evidence’ is actual documentary evidence, which in money cases unhappily cannot be produced. Should the design result in a constructional or technical defect which can be proved to stem from the architect’s or engineer’s breach of duty, all the costs which result from it may be recovered by the client though he has given the plans, specification and other contract documents his approval; while approval by a client of an aesthetic detail in the design may be an adequate discharge of personal liability, provided it does not affect the property’s commercial value. (continued)
A cautionary tale of always making sure your design works
A warehouse and some office accommodation were constructed as part of a group of four similar buildings in Brewery Road, London. The architects carried out the detailed design for the speculative development.