First Circuit: Architect Has No Legal Duty To Conduct Continuous Inspections During Construction

Vicky Elder was hurt when she stepped off an uneven drop-off in the parking lot of the Hampton Inn in Baton Rouge. She filed suit alleging the drop-off was not detectable, and thus unreasonably dangerous, because the two levels were made of the same material and were the same color. She sued the owner of the hotel, who in turn made a third-party claim against the architect who designed the walkway.

After the trial court dismissed the claim against the architect, the hotel owner appealed. The First Circuit agreed with the trial court. The evidence showed there was no written agreement between the hotel and the architect. He was merely hired to produce a set of drawings to meet the requirements of the fire marshal, city and state inspectors, and the hotel’s franchisee. The architect’s agreement did not include any responsibly for periodic safety inspections or contractor supervision. He testified that had he been expected to do those things, he would have charged much more for his work on the project.

This case illustrates the importance of reducing contracts to writing. The outcome would likely have been much different had the contract between the owner and the architect required the latter to keep tabs on the project during construction.

The case is captioned Vicky Elder v. Hilton Hotels Corporation et al.