In 2014, the California Supreme Court held that an “architect who is a principal provider of professional design services on a residential building project owes a duty of care to future homeowners.” Beacon Residential Cmty. Assn. v. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (2014) 59 Cal.4th 568, 583. In so holding, the Supreme Court distinguished a 2004 decision, Weseloh Family Ltd. Partnership v. K.L. Wessel Construction Co., Inc. (2004) 125 Cal.App.4th 152, often relied upon for the proposition that a design professional does not owe a duty of care to a third party property owner that did not hire it. The Supreme Court’s probably decision applies equally to engineers, as well perhaps, to other design professionals such as landscape architects and land surveyors.
This case is a wake-up call to architects, engineers and other design professionals involved in residential construction projects. Design professionals may want to at least consider attempting to shield themselves from owing a duty of care to third party homeowners by limiting the scope of the architect’s services in its agreement by expressly stating that the architect will have no active role throughout construction.