Texas Supreme Court: Economic Loss Rule Bars GC’s Claim Against Architect


In LAN/STV, a Joint Venture of Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, Inc. v. Martin K. Eby Construction Company, Inc., the Texas Supreme Court considered “whether the rule permits a general contractor to recover the increased costs of performing its construction contract with the owner in a tort action against the project architect for negligent misrepresentations — errors — in the plans and specifications.” Under the circumstances presented, the Court concluded that “the economic loss rule does not allow recovery” for the general contractor’s claim against LAN/STV for negligent misrepresentation, reversing the judgment of the Court of Appeals and rendering judgment for the architect; the “economic loss rule,” a common law doctrine, restricts recovery of purely economic damages unaccompanied by injury to the plaintiff or its property.

The Dallas Area Rapid Transportation Authority (“DART”) contracted with the architect to prepare plans, drawings, and specifications for the construction of a light rail transit line from Dallas’s downtown West End to the American Airlines Center about a mile away. LAN/STV was contractually responsible to DART for the accuracy of the plans, as was DART to the general contractor, but LAN/STV owed the general contractor no contractual obligation. Days after beginning construction, the general contractor discovered that LAN/STV’s plans were full of errors; approximately 80% of LAN/STV’s drawings had to be changed. The required changes disrupted the general contractor’s construction schedule and required additional labor and materials, resulting it what the general contractor calculated to be nearly a $14 million loss on the project and a 25-month job instead of a 7-month job.

In addition to pursuing a claim against DART, the general contractor sued LAN/STV, asserting causes of action for negligence and negligent misrepresentation. After the general contractor and DART settled their dispute, the general contractor’s claim against LAN/STV went to trial. The jury found in favor of the general contractor, but they also apportioned responsibility 45% to LAN/STV, 40% to DART, and 15% to the general contractor. The trial court agreed that “LAN/STV should be liable only for its apportioned share of the damages,” rendering judgment for the general contractor in the amount of $2.25 million plus interest. Both the general contractor and LAN/STV appealed.

On appeal, the Court noted that “… Texas courts of appeals have uniformly applied the economic loss rule to deny recovery of purely economic losses in actions for negligent performance of services.” It recognized the typical backdrop for construction projects: “Construction projects operate by agreements among the participants. Typically, those agreements are vertical: the owner contracts with an architect and with a general contractor, the general contractor contracts with subcontractors, a subcontractor may contract with a sub-subcontractor, and so on. The architect does not contract with the general contractor, and the subcontractors do not contract with the architect, the owner, or each other.” Even so, it concluded that it is “beyond argument that one participant on a construction project cannot recover from another — setting aside the architect for the moment — for economic loss caused by negligence.” It explained that “[I]f the roofing subcontractor could recover from the foundation subcontractor damages for extra costs incurred or business lost due to the latter’s negligent delay of construction, the risk of liability to everyone on the project would be magnified and indeterminate — the same result Justice Holmes rejected in [Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co. v. Flint, 275 U.S. 303 (1927).].”

With regard to whether an architect should be treated differently, it confirmed that “the contractor’s principal reliance must be on the presentation of the plans by the owner, with whom the contractor is to reach an agreement, not the architect, a contractual stranger.” It explained that “[t]hough there remains the possibility that a contractor may not do so, we think the availability of contractual remedies must preclude tort recovery in the situation generally because, as stated above, ‘clarity allows parties to do business on a surer footing’.” It found no “reason not to apply the economic loss rule to achieve this end.”

Additional Source: The Supreme Court of Texas Blog, The economic loss rule in Texas is more restrictive than the Restatement (Jun. 23, 2014)