Design Professionals Duty

By Kenneth S. Grossbart
Abdulaziz, Grossbart & Rudman

The case of Beacon Residential Community Association v. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP takes a look at the design professional's liability for negligent designs to third-party purchasers. What exactly are the design professional's duties to that third-party?


In this case, the homeowners association ("HOA") sued the architectural and engineering firm ("FIRM") for construction defects because of negligent design. One of the defects that was alleged included solar heat gain, which would cause the condominium units to be unlivable at times because of the excessive heat. The HOA claimed that the FIRM caused the defect because they approved the use of less expensive windows, thereby making the FIRM liable to the HOA and its members for these defects.


The FIRM filed a demurrer, which basically claimed that the plaintiff's (HOA's) case is deficient for a legal reason and requested dismissal of particular causes of action. The FIRM argued that, as design professionals, they had no duty of care to the HOA or its members. The trial court agreed with the FIRM's demurrer and indicated that there could not be liability on negligent design. A dismissal was then entered.


The Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court, and reversed their decision. The reasoning is because common law dictates that design professionals do have a duty of reasonable care to perform their services without defects. Outside of the common law, SB 800 also establishes functionality standards for new residential construction and defines defects that the building may be liable for. The judgment and order sustaining the demurrers were reversed and the trial court had to overrule the demurrers. In other words, the trial court was instructed to continue on with the case with respect to the pertinent causes of action.


To summarize, the Court of Appeal clarified that design professionals could be held liable in negligence to the third parties (usually the purchaser). Unless the California Supreme Court hears this case on appeal, this decision sets precedent with respect to alleged negligent designs.

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Kenneth Grossbart is recognized as one of the foremost authorities in California construction law. Over the past 30 years, Ken has become a respected speaker on Mechanic's Liens and other construction related issues. Abdulaziz, Grossbart & Rudman provides this information as a service to its friends & clients and it does not establish an attorney-client relationship with the reader. This document is of a general nature and is not a substitute for legal advice. Since laws change frequently, contact an attorney before using this information. Ken Grossbart can be reached at Abdulaziz, Grossbart & Rudman: (818) 760-2000 or by E-Mail at, or at

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