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Paul Zimmerman
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Design Professionals' Duty of Care Potentially Expanded with Beacon

Design professionals (architects, engineers) have largely been immune from third party negligence litigation.  The standard AIA contract has limited liability to the direct contracting parties, and has not historically recognized a duty to third party homeowners.  Since the design professionals have not been in direct contract with third party purchasers, generally no duty has been owed.  However, in a recent ruling, the California Court of Appeal in Beacon Residential Community Assoc v Skidmore 211 Cal.App.4th 1301 (2012) held that a design professional owes a reasonable duty of care to provide competent plans/design to an HOA and foreseeable residential purchasers.  This decision, if sustained by the California Supreme Court which recently granted review, expands the scope of design professionals’ duty of care and will undoubtedly open design professionals up to a great deal of litigation from home owner purchasers.  Furthermore, while not explicitly stated in the holding, we may see the duty flow to other third parties like contractors and subcontractors, and perhaps even impact design professionals’ liability in future non-residential projects as well. 

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This article is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.