When Does a Contractor’s Liability to Third Parties Expire

When Does a Contractor’s Liability to Third Parties Expire?

The recent case of McIntosh v. Progressive Design and Engineering, 2015 WL 1422590 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), answered this question as follows: A contractor is not liable to third parties for patent defects once the project owner accepts the work.

In McIntosh, a fatal car accident occurred. The victim’s son sued the company that designed the traffic signals at the intersection.  At trial the jury held that the design company was negligent in its traffic signal design which caused the plaintiff’s faither’s death.  The jury also found that the negligent design was accepted and discoverable by FDOT with the exercise of reasonable care.  Therefore the trial court entered a judgment in favor of the design company.

On appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling, and applied the Slavin doctrine.  Under Slavin, the liability of a contractor is cut off after the owner has accepted the work performed, if the alleged defect is a patent defect which the owner could have discovered and remedied.  Slavin has two requirements to cut off a contractor’s liability to third parties: (1) the defect or dangerous condition was obvious had the owner exercised reasonable care; and (2) the owner has accepted the contractor’s work.  The reasoning behind Slavin is that if the owner has knowledge of a defect and accepts the work, it is now the owner’s burden to correct the patent defects — not the contractor.