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State Statute Relieved Contractor Of Defective Design Liability

Thursday, July 27, 2017 05:00 am


Plans & Specifications---Superior Knowledge

LaShip, LLC v. Hayward Baker, Inc., 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 3694 (5th Cir. March 1, 2017)

A Spearin-like Louisiana statute holds that a contractor is not liable for mistakes in plans and specifications upon which it relies to perform its work---as long as it didn't espy any obvious hazards on the horizon.

Contractor Hayward Baker, Inc. (HBI) submitted a bid to project owner LaShip, LLC (LaShip) to perform on a shipbuilding facility construction project in Houma, Louisiana. That bid---to complete soil mixing and drilled shaft work---was based on soil borings LaShip procured, as well as the project engineer's design specifications. The contract LaShip and HBI entered into incorporated those specs.

HBI encountered difficulty installing drill shafts on some of the foundation columns. There were indications of both mixed and unmixed soil, and several "cave-ins" occurred. LaShip directed HBI to switch from six-foot to eight-foot columns, but this did not solve the problem of unwanted settlement of the foundation columns.

LaShip later sued HBI for unjust enrichment, breach of contract, negligence, and breach of the implied duty of workmanlike performance. HBI countered, claiming that LaShip breached the contract by failing to pay for additional soil mixing work. A district court held that LaShip failed to prove the majority of its claims against HBI. In this appeal, LaShip principally contended that HBI failed to fulfill its contractual duty because it was obligated to warn LaShip about alleged defects in the column design.

Contractor duty was to construct strong columns

The district court concluded, and the appeals court agreed, that HBI fulfilled its duty under the contract---and that duty did not include liability for the engineer's design.

Specifically, HBI's contractual obligation was to install soil-mix columns "such that, when tested as set out in the specifications, 90 percent of the Phase I samples demonstrated an unconfined compressive strength of at least 100psi." Indeed, it was undisputed that, despite the foundation settlement, the installed columns were sufficiently strong. Ninety percent of the Phase I and 100 percent of the Phases II and III samples met the mini[...]

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