Design Professional Liability: Determining Professional Negligence During the Submittal Review Process

Open Access
Caine, Christopher
Graduate Program:
Civil Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
March 19, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Horace Randolph Thomas Jr., Thesis Advisor
  • professional negligence
  • design professional liability
  • submittal review
Professional liability is a concern for architects and engineers in today’s litigious society. Contractors may seek to recover damages caused by the design professional’s actions or inactions during the submittal review process. However, there is no contract defining the relationship between contractor and design professional under many common project delivery methods. Contractors must pursue tort claims such as professional negligence to recover damages. Architects and engineers must understand the requirements for proving professional negligence to effectively manage their risk. The research first determined which elements are essential in proving professional negligence by reviewing the literature regarding professional liability. Over twenty appellate court decisions involving professional negligence were located and analyzed. The key issues of each case, as identified by the courts, were used to determine rules and inquiries for determining professional liability as it relates to the submittal review process. Courts use the legal concepts of duty, breach, and cause when determining if an architect or engineer acted negligently, and draw a distinction between claims for physical damages and claims for purely economic damages. Claimants pursuing damages for purely economic damages must prove an additional requirement of foreseeability and navigate the application of the economic loss rule. Courts may evaluate the owner/designer agreement when considering if the claimant was owed a tort duty by the design professional, although tort claims are usually independent of contracts. The unique relationship between designer and builder has challenged state courts’ interpretation of tort and contractual duties, accounting for inconsistent decisions on professional liability across the United States.