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Double Standard: NY Appellate Court Supports Summary Judgment For A Construction Manager But Not For An Architect Based On Similar Evidence

July 15, 2022

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The Appellate Division, Fourth Department recently issued a decision evaluating the different standards applied to determine liability for an architect and construction manager on the same project. In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Dentico-v.-Turner.pdf">Dentico v. Turner,</a> </em>plaintiffs sued the architect and construction manager of a hospital where plaintiff Alan Dentico worked as a maintenance groundskeeper. Dentico allegedly sustained injuries when he fell while exiting a door at the hospital. He claimed there was a three-foot height differential from the floor plaintiff was exiting to the opposite side of the door. The architect and construction manager on the project both moved for summary judgment and the Supreme Court granted the motions in part and denied the motions with respect to claims for negligence and loss of consortium. Both defendants then successfully moved to reargue their motions and these claims were dismissed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Fourth Department held that the Supreme Court erred in granting the architect’s motion for summary judgment on re-argument, finding that the architect “had the initial burden of establishing that it used the degree of care in design that a reasonably prudent architect would use to avoid an unreasonable risk of harm to anyone likely to be exposed to the danger.” The Court held that the lower court erred in determining that Dentico was not an intended user of the area where the accident occurred, and that the deposition evidence proved that he was an employee of the hospital using the door in its “ordinary manner.” The evidence also showed that there was in fact a three-foot differential without warning signs, railings, or locks on the door, which could show that the architect was negligent in designing the building.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">However, the Court also held that the construction manager was properly dismissed because “a builder or contractor is justified in relying upon the plans and specifications which he [or she] has contracted to follow, unless they are so apparently defective that an ordinary builder of ordinary prudence would be put on notice that the work was dangerous and likely to cause injury.” The construction manager submitted evidence establishing that the doorway involved was in such a remote area of the hospital that it was not likely to cause injury, and that the plans were not so “blatantly defective” that the manager was unjustified in relying on them.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The <em>Dentico</em> case highlights the varying standards of care that can be involved in a construction defect case and shows that the liability of professional and non-professional defendants can vary based on the same or similar evidence.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thank you to Alexandra Deplas for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="mailto:agibbs@wcmlaw.com">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.</p>

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