Rosenthal v. Rueter

A-5807-97T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: July 16, 1999

ARCHITECTS—Nothing in New Jersey statutes or regulations prohibits an architect from contracting for only a limited review of plans, and when doing so, an architect is not liable for deficiencies for elements designed by others.

This action stemmed from the collapse of a roof over an arena. The only remaining defendant was an architect and the issue was whether the architect was responsible for the truss bracing that failed. The architect contended that it was presented with a set of proposed plans by an experienced arena builder and that it was asked to review them from an architectural point of view and to affix its seal and stamp to the plans. As such, it contended that it undertook what was regarded as a relatively limited role and at the time it knew that the truss arrangement would be designed by others. There was a note on the plans indicating that the truss design was done by others and that the trusses were pre-engineered. One key issue was that the architect noted that it was not an engineer and, because the design of the trusses was to be done by an engineer, review of the truss design was not within the very limited scope of the architect’s assignment. The lower court held in favor of the architect, finding that the design of the trusses constitutes engineering which is not the business of an architect. Nothing in the BOCA Code says anything to the contrary. When the architect undertook to insure compliance with the BOCA Code, it did not undertake to insure compliance with engineering aspects of the Code. Consequently, the architect, in this context, was entitled to rely on the pre-engineered trusses being engineered properly, and that included the lateral supports and the fastening mechanisms which would fasten the trusses to the walls and to the roof and to the ceiling. In addition, the architect was not the overall designer of the building. It was simply insuring compliance with the Code from an architectural point of view. In sum, the architect was entitled to rely upon engineering by others to be complete and correct. The Appellate Division agreed. In doing so, it held that the architect had taken into account all of the applicable laws, regulations, and ordinances related to lawful construction of the building. Despite the failure of the roof trusses, there was no showing that the architect ignored or violated the requirements of any statute or regulation in approving the designs which has been submitted to it. Furthermore, in the absence of a clear statutory or regulatory provision to the contrary, the scope of an architect’s engagement determines the scope of its responsibility. Contrary to the property owner’s contentions, nothing in New Jersey statutes or regulations prohibits an architect from making a limited review of building plans.