Design Professionals and Claims

In a rare opportunity to interpret Oregon’s statutory requirements for licensure of architects, the Oregon Supreme Court recently held that the development of master plans constitutes the “practice of architecture”—even if constructible drawings and specifications are not contemplated or produced.

The case, Twist Architecture & Design, Inc. v. Oregon Board of Architect Examiners, 361 Or 507, 395 P3d 574 (2017), stemmed from a determination by the Board of Architect Examiners (the “Board”) that Seattle based firm Twist Architecture & Design, Inc. and two of its principals who were not licensed in Oregon (collectively “Twist”) engaged in the unlawful practice of architecture and unlawfully represented themselves as architects in violation of ORS 671.020—Oregon’s statute containing the licensure requirement—when they prepared master plans for three proposed commercial developments in Oregon.

Rejecting an argument that the ADA preempts all contractual claims for indemnity and contribution, the Ninth Circuit recently upheld a public owner’s right to seek contribution for damages arising out of ADA violations caused by the designer and contractor of a transportation facility. See City of Los Angeles v. AECOM Services, Inc. (here).

Home improvement, - close-up of handyman laying tile

A common insurance question asked by our owner/developer clients when they discover that their completed project has defects is whether their own insurance will cover the cost to fix the defect or any damage from the defect.  While trying hard not to sound like the proverbial lawyer, we often have to say “it depends.”  What

On May 3, 2016, Division 2 of the Washington Court of Appeals issued a decision that renders seemingly moribund the economic loss rule and extends the reach of the independent duty doctrine (“IDD”) against design professionals. The case of Pointe at Westport Harbor Homeowners’ Association v. Engineers Northwest, Inc. P.S., 193 Wn. App. 695,

Continuing a disturbing trend, another recent case finds that an architect is not liable for a design that failed to comply with the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA). In Chicago Housing Authority v. DeStefano & Partners, Ltd. (here), an Illinois appellate court followed several other federal and state decisions

Indemnity provisions are often among the most negotiated and least understood provisions of commercial contracts, and construction contracts are no exception to this rule. Despite, and perhaps because of, the importance of these clauses, they have evolved into an almost impenetrable jumble of legal terminology.

This jumble of words is not, however, without meaning. Although

In the haste to get design and construction moving on real estate projects, one may lose sight of important lien priority issues when negotiating and executing contracts. In my recent article for the Daily Journal of Commerce, I discuss a notable Washington appellate case that addresses a lien priority issue in the context of

The new year brings a reminder that owners need to be careful about changes to their contractors’ and designers’ insurance policies. Many of the most important terms of an insurance policy are in “endorsements” added to the policy. For example, a policy may include an endorsement excluding claims between insured parties (say, a claim by

In a recent case, Donatelli v. D.R. Strong Consulting Engineers, Inc., 312 P.3d 620 (Wash. 2013), a sharply divided 5-4 opinion by the Washington Supreme Court provides further evidence that the line between Washington’s “economic loss” rule and “independent duty” doctrine remains quite blurred. 

The case arose out of an agreement between property owners, the Donatellis, and D.R. Strong Engineers, Inc. (“D.R. Strong”) for the development of the owners’ property into two short plats. Initially, D.R. Strong orally agreed to help with the county permitting process and to manage the project through recordation of the plats. According to the Donatellis, D.R. Strong told them the project would be completed in 1.5 years. After obtaining preliminary county approval for the project, which would last 60 months, D.R. Strong sent the Donatellis a written contract for engineering services. The contract detailed the engineering services and estimated fee, but was silent as to D.R. Strong’s project management role. The Donatellis alleged that D.R. Strong assumed extensive managerial responsibilities on the project and charged them four times the initial estimate. 


The county’s preliminary approval expired with the project incomplete. Before D.R. Strong could obtain a new preliminary approval, the Donatellis suffered financial hardship and the property was lost to foreclosure. The Donatellis then sued D.R. Strong, claiming over $1.5 million in damages and alleging breach of contract, Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”) violations, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation. The trial court granted summary judgment on the CPA claims, but denied summary judgment on the negligence claims, finding that “‘professional negligence claims can be stated even in the context of a contractual relationship.’” Id. at 622 (quoting trial court). The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling under the independent duty doctrine, based on the notion that engineers owe duties to their clients independent of any contractual relationship. See Donatelli v. D.R. Strong Consulting Eng’rs, Inc., 163 Wn. App. 436, 443, 261 P.3d 664 (2011). 


The issues for the Washington Supreme Court included whether the independent duty doctrine applied to preserve the owners’ claims for negligence (despite factual questions regarding the scope of D.R. Strong’s work) and negligent misrepresentation (predicated on D.R. Strong’s alleged misrepresentations made to induce the Donatellis to contract). The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ ruling and thus refined application of the independent duty doctrine to extend the reach of tort-based claims beyond any contractual agreement. 


Washington’s lien laws, like those of other states, set forth pre-claim notice requirements that, if not satisfied, may result in the forfeiture of lien rights. The applicable statute, RCW 60.04.031, presents an interesting array of “if-then” scenarios in which the notice requirements are imposed. Generally, unless falling under one of three exempted categories, RCW 60.04.031