The AIA’s recent 2017 update of standard documents has not fundamentally altered an architect’s obligations. An architect, like other professionals, is subject to professional expectations from both the community and the client. These expectations are collectively known (and to an extent: codified) as the Standard of Care.
“The standard of care is the basis against which architects are measured to determine whether they are performing to a level of legal competence. The standard of care does not require performing services perfectly. Rather, when errors and omissions occur, they are judged against a standard consistent with the work of other architects doing similar projects. Errors and omissions that fall short of this ‘norm’ constitute a failure to meet the standard of care, amounting to legal negligence. The key to the concept is that there is a norm – and the norm is not perfection.
The standard of care flows from a concept in English law that recognizes that professional services – from doctors, lawyers, architects, and engineers – are rendered based upon learned opinion. Such professional opinions are provided by gifted human beings who have plied their trade over time, developing varied pathways to success. There isn’t always a single solution.
To determine whether an architect has been negligent, performance will be measured against what architects would typically have done in the same situation.” (AIA Architects Handbook of Professional Practice, Fifteenth Edition, page 992)
Recently the AIA’s Risk Management Program offered a white paper on how the Standard of Care is applied.
“An architect’s failing to practice in accordance with the standard of care does not automatically result in liability. There are four elements that must be proven before liability and damages will be assessed on the basis of professional negligence.
The four elements of a professional negligence claim:
- First, there must be a duty owed by the architect to the party bringing a claim against the architect.
- Second, there must be a breach of the duty owed. Meaning, there must be a failure on the part of the architect to act or perform its services within the applicable standard of care.
- Third, there must be actual damages. These damages may be purely, economic, or they may involve personal injury or property damage. Without damages, even though there is a violation of the standard of care, there is no harm, no foul, and no liability.
- Fourth, there must be a causal connection between the architect’s failure to perform in accordance with the standard of care and the actual damages incurred. The damage must be a direct and proximate result of the architect’s breach of the standard of care. If the damages did not occur as a result of the architect’s breach of the standard of care, there can be no liability.” (10.10.19, https://www.aia.org/articles/140561-the-standard-of-care-how-is-it-applied)
Any evaluation by an expert witness is then:
Did the architect follow the same process and provide the same service that could reasonably be expected from any other architect at the time and was there a duty the architect owed that was breached?