Don Rataj AIA NCARB

Don Rataj
Architectural
Expert Witness

Architect Standard of Care

Expert’s view of the Architect’s Standard of Care

When a design/construction project starts most architects and clients are very happy to work together, however sometimes afterwards the client may become unhappy with the outcome of the specific building design, cost over runs, material selections and/or overall appearance.

The liability for possible negligence by an architect generally requires direct proof that their conduct in question fell below the Standard of care customarily exercised by prudent architects under the same and/or similar circumstances.

The basic AIA definition of the “standard of care” is a shorthand description that states the architectural designer owes a duty to perform reasonably well on the construction design project. The Standard of care is not defined as true perfection, as we understand that nobody is perfect. The architect does however, need to show ”reasonable care” and performing the level of skill and diligence of those professionals who are also engaged in the same type of architectural design would ordinarily exercise and provide under very similar circumstances.

The most common form of verbal stipulation in the Roman law.

Spondet peritiam artis. He promises the skill of his art; he engages to do the work in a skillful or workmanlike manner.

1. The Architect shall possess the required degree of learning, skills, and experience that is ordinarily possessed by similarly situated professionals in the community (perform as well as other architects practicing in the same area and experience)

2. The Architect shall use reasonable, ordinary care and diligence in the preparation of their skill to accomplish the contracted professional tasks.

3. The Architect shall use their best judgment in performing your professional tasks.

Architects strive to do their very best professional work, but occasionally the physical and/or administrative results as perceived by the owner/client are not completely acceptable. The owner/client may feel that the architect did not provide the necessary services that were sufficiently diligent or may have performed some part of their duties at a substandard level. Also the construction project may have exceeded the owner/client budgetary cost and/or exceeded the project completion time expectations. There may also be some construction material defects in the finished product for which the owner/client would seek to hold the architect financially responsible. Architects can be held legally responsible for the owner/client for financial losses if they are proven to have been negligent due to the contract.

The design professional is required to perform the services described in the agreement with the owner/client; this is a contractual standard, and if those services are not accurately performed, the design professional can be held in breach of its contract. The manner in which those services are performed is judged by the professional AIA definition of the Standard of care, which is a standard embodied in tort (negligence) law.

Under this standard, the design professional is held to use the same degree of care as is ordinarily practiced by other (architects) with similar experienced design professionals in that discipline.

The architect shall perform their services consistent with the professional skill and care ordinarily provided by architects practicing in the same or similar locality under the same or similar circumstances. The architect shall perform their services as expeditiously as is consistent with such professional skill and care and the with the orderly progress of the project.

Architect might provide and perform its contractual responsibilities to provide budget cost estimates, value engineering, alternate construction materials but do so in a negligent manner. In such a case, the architect could be held liable for malpractice based upon the contract.

The AIA has in the past relied on local law to define the architect’s Standard of care. However, in order to address owner desires for more certainty as to this standard, all of the 2007 AIA contracts for Owner-Architect Agreements contain a contractually defined Standard of care.

Negligence is a very technical and legal term. An architect can be held negligent if they are not reasonably competent or have failed to exercise due care under the circumstances. This means that the architect must possess the requisite skills and education for the project they agree to undertake and should conduct the professional activities with due diligence and reasonable care.

Architects are not expected to do any more than their contracts require as long as the quality of services contracted for meets the definition of the Standard of care. Architects must also not undertake projects which are clearly beyond their own technical abilities and experience and/or those of the personnel they have available to work on the assignment. Only experienced, competent, and qualified architectural staff should be assigned to each task. Junior and/or inexperienced personnel must be carefully supervised by fully qualified architects. The architectural firm should retain outside engineering and/or other specialized consultants to supplement its own capabilities.

Failure Of Materials Or Procedures
It is extremely important that architects are aware of new developments in the construction and technology as they occur. Architects will usually be found negligent if they continue specifying materials or procedures which have been proven harmful and/or a unsuccessful construction material.

Architects are not expected to conduct physical testing procedures in the laboratory and/or the field. However they are required to be aware of the physical and engineering properties of the materials and processes which they specify and they must properly apply the generally accepted principles for proper design and construction.

The architects must review the drawings, specifications, and/or bidding documents for compliance with owner/client instructions and program and the building code, proper use of materials, and correct application of construction techniques and processes. The architect also must check for coordination within the documents and for carrying out the recommendations of expert consultants such as civil soils engineers, structural engineers, MEP engineers and land surveyors.

Architect Checklist
Many architectural firms have their own checklists, and others use the American Institute of Architects project checklist (AIA Document D200). By use of a sufficiently comprehensive architectural checklist, the architect will be reminded to make sure that all of the necessary testing procedures have been accomplished, written approvals provided, lien releases obtained, operation manuals delivered to the owner, punch list work accomplished, substantial completion, and that other special requirements of the plans and specifications are satisfied. Otherwise, the architect certificates may be meaningless and their risk of being held liable for negligence is increased.

Reliance on architect’s skill
The owner/client, general contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and sureties also rely on the architect’s special skill and/or adherence to the professional standard of care. If any of these entities perceive that major financial losses, injuries, and/or inconveniences are have been in any way caused by the architect’s negligence then they will undoubtedly be advised by their counsel to pursue a legal claim against the architect.

Expert Witnesses
The architect’s main legal defense to a possible negligence claim is proof of compliance with the professional Standard of care. This is generally demonstrated through the testimony of an architectural expert witnesses skilled in the same discipline and experience.

Contractors & Subcontractors liability

Contractors and subcontractors that are not a licensed professionals can also be labile. Contractor and subcontractor duties fall under the “implied duty of workmanship“. The contractor or subcontractor has a duty to make sure your work is sufficiently free from defects such that it meets the requirements of the Contract documents.

Florida “notice of claim”

FS. Ch. 558, Known as the Florida Construction Defect Statute, requires owners to send a “notice of claim” to developers, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and/or design professionals identifying any alleged construction and/or design defects in “reasonable detail” before any litigation or arbitration for construction defects may be initiated.

Don Rataj

Architectural Expert Witness

Donrataj@gmail.com