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Contractual Disclaimers #1: Can Architect’s Safety Disclaimer Be Enforced Against an Injured Worker?

July 9, 2024 General News

Can a design agreement disclaimer between an owner and an architect negate an architect’s duty to an injured worker? According to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, yes. In Bonilla v. Verges Rome Architects, 2024 WL 1229219 (La. Mar. 22, 2024), the architect was on site conducting inspections the same day a subcontractor’s employee was injured due to a vault collapse. The architect’s contract with the owner contained provisions which disclaimed the architect’s control over the means and methods construction was conducted. The court concluded the contractual disclaimer in its contract with the architect meant the architect owed no duty to the injured employee.

Arizona courts seem to be in accordance with the Bonilla decision. For example, in Reber v. Chandler School Dist. No. 202, 13 Ariz. App. 133 (1970), the extent of the architect’s duties was determined solely based on his contract with the owner. . Based on this contract, the architect had a right to stop unsafe construction processes, yet there was no duty to stop these processes. Any supervisory requirement in the contract was merely to ensure finalized work would comply with the plans approved by the owner. Thus, the architect was not liable for observing the construction process which ultimately injured a worker.

A.R.S. § 32-142 calls for direct supervision of an architect over their drawings or plans. This statute appears to enlarge an architect’s general duty to use ordinary diligence and care. See Chaney Building Co. v. City of Tucson 148 Ariz. 571. (1986). Yet, the court in Reber held that this statute imposes no duty upon the architect to supervise the means and methods used by the general contractor. Architect’s duties are defined solely through their design agreement disclaimer. This disclaimer is intended to limit the architect’s responsibility with respect to thoroughness and the amount of control over the means and methods of construction. Bruner & O’Connor on Construction Law § 5:118.