As is often the answer in this blog, maybe. And, it will likely depend on which state’s law is applied. Over the last few weeks, courts around the country have reached differing conclusions on whether a general contractor may sue an architect that it did not hire.
Here’s the situation: The owner hires an architect to draft plans for a project. The project is then put out for bid and the owner hires a general contractor for the work. The general contractor and architect do not enter into a contract with each other.
If, during construction, the general contractor finds fault with the plans, it may seek Request for Information and Change Orders, to shore up the perceived problems with the plans. Ultimately, the general contractor may sue the architect to recover damages it suffered in completing the project.
Architect’s Defense: Typically, an architect sued by a general contractor will argue that it is not liable to the general contractor because it does not have a contract with general contractor and owed no duty to the general contractor. Instead, the general contractor’s claim is properly asserted against the owner.
Diverging Opinions: Over the past few weeks, courts have addressed this very situation in which an architect was sued by a general contractor that did not hire the architect. Although the underlying facts were nearly identical, two courts reached opposite conclusions on whether the architect could be held liable.
In a recent New Jersey case, a general contractor sued an architect alleging that the architect was professionally negligent in drafting the plans for the project. The architect moved to dismiss the claim, arguing it had no relationship with the general contractor and could not be held liable to the general contractor. The court disagreed, ruling that the general contractor could sue the architect directly, even though the architect and general contractor had no contractual relationship.
In a recent Texas case, the general contractor also sued an architect alleging that the architect was professionally negligent in drafting plans for a project. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that the general contractor could not sue the architect because there was no relationship between the two. Instead, the Texas court determined that any problems with the plans should have been addressed in the contract between the owner and the general contractor.
Take Away: Courts are split on whether a general contractor can sue an architect hired by the owner. Any determination will rely heavily on the contract between the owner and the general contractor and the applicable state’s law.