An Architect walks into a bar. No this isn’t a joke, but a question. When is a design professional liable to the general public for his or her inspection?
As a general rule, the mere fact that a person should realize that action on his part is necessary for another’s protection (e.g., to warn of a dangerous condition) does not of itself impose upon him a duty to take such action. For example, if a design professional is simply patronizing his local bar as a customer and notices a dangerous building design defect, he is under no legal duty to warn others of that defect, and if another customer is injured, he is not liable.
However, the law recognizes that a design professional can assume a duty to protect others from harm, and in some instances the law will hold the design professional responsible for the resulting personal injuries of others.
Under the Section 324A of the Restatement of Torts, if a design professional has undertaken to inspect the bar for building defects and report them, he could be held liable for personal injuries if he recognizes that his services are necessary for the protection of others, such as the shop’s customers and vendors, and one of the following applies: (a) in the course of performing his inspection, he made the defective condition even worse, (b) he contractually agreed to perform a business owner’s legal duty to inspect the premises for defects, or (c) the bar owner or its customers has relied on the design professional’s services.
The Takeaway: While a design professional does not generally owe a duty to warn others of building defects that he sees, he can contractually or even gratuitously assume those duties in such a way as to be liable to members of the general public who are injured as a result of his failing to warn them.
To read a more in depth discussion of this topic, click here.