Claims against architects

Posted by Nicola Rochon on
What is required when the service provided by an architect falls below the standard of work reasonably expected?

Architects can be appointed for a variety of different tasks, from designing a structure and specifying materials, to overseeing the work required to build a structure. But essentially an architect is appointed to provide a professional service in relation to construction work. Unfortunately, as is the case with many professionals, the service provided by an architect sometimes falls far below the standard of work reasonably expected. This article looks at what is required in these situations to establish a claim against an architect.

That there is a duty owed to you

The starting point is to consider whether a duty is owed to you by the architect. One way to establish this is to show a contractual agreement between you and the architect. An example of this may be a contract of engagement naming you and the architect as parties to the agreement.

However, the absence of a contractual agreement does not mean that a duty is not owed. A professional such as an Architect is generally taken to owe a duty of care in tort to a person that has relied on the services that he provides, provided a sufficiently proximate relationship exists.

That this duty has been breached

In establishing whether any duty has been breached you must first consider the scope of the duty owed to you. Look to the terms on which you engaged your architect. For example, if you have engaged an architect to design a structure, then the architect's duty may not extend any further than providing these designs. It will not, for example, be within the scope of his duty to oversee how the designs have been carried out by a contractor.

If a contract exists between you and the architect, it is likely that this will set out the architect's duties and may also specify the required standard of care expected of him when carrying out these duties.

If the standard of care is not expressly stated then a duty of reasonable care and skill may be implied into the contract.

A duty of reasonable care and skill means that the architect must carry out his professional obligations to the standard that would be expected of a reasonably competent person in his profession. Therefore, the question to ask is whether there is evidence that, at the time work was carried out, a responsible body of architects would have taken the view that the way in which your architect has carried out his duties was not an appropriate way of doing so. It is important to remember that the evidence of another architect stating that he would have carried out his duties differently is not necessarily enough to show that the architect breached his duty.

Has this breach caused you to suffer loss

You must be able to show that it is because of the architect's breach of duty that you have now suffered loss.  If you are able to show that you would have been in a better position but for the architect's breach, will likely be taken to have suffered such loss.

However, if it can be shown that you have acted in an unreasonable way to increase your loss, or unreasonably failed to try to avoid or reduce your loss, then any potential right to damages you may have had could be affected. The 'duty to mitigate' is an important one, and usually the costs of a reasonable attempt to mitigate will be recoverable (i.e. any costs you incur trying to rectify problems cause by your architect's failures. For more information on mitigation please follow this link.

Damages

As a result of the loss suffered, you may be able to claim damages from your architect (or his/her insurers). The purpose of an award of damages is to put you in the same position you would have been in if your architect had not breached his duty towards you. For example, this may be the cost that will be incurred when carrying out remedial works to your property to remedy defects.

However, you are not able to claim damages that will put you in a better position than you would have been in even if the architect had performed his duties correctly.

When an architect carries out his professional duties negligently, it can have a hugely damaging effect on construction works. Often remedying these faults can be very expensive and time consuming.

Consequently, knowing that you are able to bring a claim against your architect and being able to identify any such claim as early as possible can therefore provide some security in relation to this additional expert. As a golden rule therefore, at the outset of any project, you should carefully review any letter of engagement and ensure that the contract clearly sets out your architects duties.

 

About the Authors

Nicola Rochon is a Trainee Solicitor in our Employment team based in Southampton.

Nicola Rochon
Email Nicola
023 8085 7026

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Carina is a Senior Solicitor in the Commercial Litigation team specialising in professional negligence disputes.

Carina McFadden
Email Carina
023 8085 7373

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