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California Supreme Court rules that architects can be sued by condo association

Design defects will be fair game for lawsuits by residential groups

July 11, 2014 |

California’s Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the principal architects for a condominium project may be sued directly by a condominium homeowners association for design defects. 

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and HKS, Inc. were the principal architects for a 595 unit condominium project built near AT&T Park in San Francisco. The case, Beacon Residential Community Association v. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP, pertained to a 595-unit condominium project built near AT&T Park in San Francisco.

The units allegedly developing several defects including water infiltration, structural cracks, and overheating that made units virtually uninhabitable at times. The homeowners association sued the architects, alleging that these defects were caused by negligent design.

The decision highlighted the closeness of the connection between the architects’ conduct and the plaintiffs’ injuries, the limited and predictable class of potential plaintiffs, and the absence of options for the owners in obtaining design services on their own. 

The decision held that even though, on most projects, the developer has the final say on design choices, the architect can’t escape liability to the end user. This decision is likely to give homeowners associations another target in defect cases. Architecture firms should consult their liability insurer to determine whether these claims will be covered.


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