When is the Architect’s Design Liable in Construction Accidents?

by mollyp on August 7, 2013

Design flaw liability can be a very complicated legal issue. Injured parties in a construction accident are normally workers who are under the direct employ of the contractor who provides workers compensation insurance in the event of an on-the-job injury. Sometimes the injury can be the result of a design flaw, but filing suit against the architect as a third party can be problematic. It is normally incumbent on the plaintiff to prove that someone other than the employer actually caused the plaintiff’s injury. Any decision to file litigation against an architectural designer will always require an effective and experienced construction accident attorney. Duty of Care for an Architect

Professional building designers are trained professionals, not unlike attorneys and doctors. A doctor can rarely guarantee the outcome of a medical procedure or surgery, just as an attorney cannot always guarantee the outcome of a legal case. Likewise, architects are not perfect and the standard for legal duty of care responsibilities is “reasonable and ordinary,” with the burden of proof being a preponderance of the evidence. The evidence can be a single technical flaw or a general totality. Transferring a legal responsibility to the architect can be difficult, especially when they have solid legal representation and are not in breach of the original blueprint purchase contract. Architectural Design as Intellectual Property

An architectural design is a finished product ordered by the purchaser, but the actual copyright on the finished design belongs to the originator, although ideas cannot be copyrighted. It is not necessary for the drawing to be a work of art. The intellectual property owner is clearly the architect, as the architect has the ownership authority to resell the design to another owner or contractor unless the contract associated with the blueprint restricts redistribution. Ordinarily, the contract is complete when the design is finally delivered to the building owner. Change orders can occur, but liability for imperfections or omissions is difficult to prove unless a technical component was omitted that is directly addressed in the design request language. Recovery for an Employer

There are situations where an accident injury is covered by a contractor who may have standing for recourse in the recovery of compensation paid to an employee or other party. Some states allow for any settlement in this case to include the injured party, also. This is especially applicable with a work-related injury, such as one resulting from a construction accident, because workers compensation is not intended to make an injured employee whole. A direct employer cannot be sued for negligence. However, an architect who prepared an unreasonably flawed design can be a recourse litigant in a provable situation. Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence usually involves a reasonable assumption of risk for all parties. Injured employees are often injured due to their own fault, but are still covered by workers compensation. This becomes a balancing act, but rarely includes the architectural design when construction standards are not met. The design blueprint is merely the intellectual property used by an owner to procure a contractor who must build according to proper regulations and specifications. Additionally, experienced professional architectural designers include protective language in the original design contract limiting the legal recourse rights of other parties, including intended use of the structure.
Filing a third party claim against architectural designers has been a contemporary trend, largely in cases of serious injury that may leave a party in a total disability situation and have little other recourse for whole compensation. Owners are usually the party left in the position of responsibility because of the distinct roles of the contracting agents. Any individual involved in a legal dispute over a construction accident should retain a solid construction attorney who knows how to sort the complicated legalities of these cases.
Freelance author and artist Molly Pearce is concerned with human rights and raising awareness on legal responsibilities, especially as they pertain to art and design. She looks to resources like http://www.perecman(dot)com for her legal research when she is writing on subjects such as personal injury or the liability issues of a construction accident.

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