John Becker and Fred Mahar obtained an allocation of no liability and $0 award in AAA binding Arb.

John Becker and Fred Mahar obtained an allocation of no liability and $0 award against our landscape architect client in a binding AAA proceeding. The Pennsylvania case involved a plaintiff making a personal injury claim against the contractor and design team for a medical facility where he tripped and sustained serious injuries.

The defendants, which included the general contractor, project architect, and sub-consultant landscape architect, agreed to an overall settlement of $300,000 with plaintiff on the condition that the three defendants would submit to binding arbitration for allocation of liability. The dispute between the design professional defendants centered around whose scope included the architectural feature associated with the plaintiff’s accident: a short wall adjacent to a planter bed and staircase railing located in the plaza outside the building.

The contract between the parties did not explicitly state whether the wall was in the landscape architect’s scope. The project architect argued that the feature was within the landscape architect’s scope based on its location on the project – in the plaza outside the building. In response, we successfully argued that the project architect was responsible for delineating its sub-consultants’ scope of services, including the landscape architect. We were also successful in establishing that the project architect retained design responsibility and control over the interface of the wall and adjacent railing where plaintiff tripped.

Specifically, the project architect had approved a change order submitted by the contractor related to the railing and wall without communicating with or seeking input from the landscape architect.

The arbitrator heard arguments and testimony from the parties and ultimately determined that the project architect was liable for 75% of the settlement, the general contractor for 25%, and the landscape architect was not liable for any portion of the settlement.

Practice Pointer: When working on a team of multiple design professionals for a project, make sure that the scope of each professional is defined and understood by all others. The scope should also be defined in detail in the contract for services.