Construction Defect Journal Archives

Subcontractor Allowed to Sue Designer for Negligence: California Courts Chip Away at the Economic Loss Doctrine (Independent Duty Rule)

August 30, 2017
John P. Ahlers - Ahlers & Cressman PLLC

An architect may have to pay over $1 million to a subcontractor who was contractually obligated to rely on the designer’s plans – even though the architect was not a party to the contract.[1] That was the ruling in U.S. f/u/b/o Penn Air Control, Inc. v. Bilbro Constr. Co., Inc.[2]

The dispute involved a $7.3 million design-build contract award to Bilbro Construction (“Bilbro”) to renovate a facility for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Monterey, California. Bilbro hired an architect (“FPBA”) to serve as the designer of record and provide all the architectural design services. FPBA’s design team included an acoustical sub-consultant (Sparling). The general contractor (design builder) also retained Alpha Mechanical (Alpha) as the mechanical electrical and plumbing (“MEP”) design/build subcontractor. Alpha, in turn, subcontracted the MEP design to Shadpour Consulting Engineers. During the design phase of this project, Alpha’s MEP design was reviewed by FPBA, Bilbro, and Sparling at the 35, 75, and 100 percent design completion levels. Alpha demonstrated that it regularly received direct communications during design development from Sparling and FPBA, including comments, changes, and revisions. One example Alpha cited was it raised some concerns about anticipated noise level in eight rooms. Sparling made several recommendations to Alpha and Shadpour that were implemented.

Mr. Ahlers may be contacted at


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