It's always an exciting time when you start working with an architect to draw up plans for a new building. However, things can and often do go wrong. When something happens or you are faced with a possible legal issue, it's important to understand what the law allows for and how it applies to your case. While talking with an attorney familiar with construction litigation is always the best course of action, having a basic understanding of when you may have a case can help you prepare for your first meeting.
A construction defect is perhaps one of the scariest issues that can come up when working on one of these projects. It's normal to wonder if you have a case against the architect in these situations, but for most people, the answer will be no. This is true even if the owner paid the architect to inspect the contractor's work. The problem here is that these are two different professions. While the architect may be able to point out potential issues or spot some poor workmanship, it's not the architect's job to act as the construction supervisor, and he or she cannot be held liable for the contractor's work.
Can I sue over design defects?
There is also the possibility that an issue is due to a defect in the actual plans rather than the construction. In these situations, the architect may be held legally liable for the defect. However, this largely depends on the details and circumstances of each particular case. It is within the scope of the architect's responsibilities to take "reasonable and ordinary care" to ensure that there are no flaws in the design, but it's fairly common for issues not to be found until the actual construction phase. At this point, the owner and the architect can usually reach an agreement over how the changes -- and the costs incurred -- will be handled, and these are then added to the contract.
Who owns the plans?
A third issue that often causes confusion for property owners is who maintains ownership of the plans. When you pay an architect to draw up plans for a building, it's important to understand that you are paying for one-time use rights. The plans do no become your intellectual property. It may be helpful to think of this as similar to buying a book or a piece of art. You pay for the piece, but you cannot reproduce it and sell it to anyone else without being in violation of copyright laws. Because this is an often-misunderstood issue, it's important to make who owns the plans and what can be done with them afterward as clear as possible in the contract language.