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$400,000 Architectural Malpractice Verdict

Type of Action: Architectural Malpractice and Chapter 93A.

Damages Alleged: Inadequate attic ventilation throughout a twelve building housing cooperative leading to repeated extensive ice damming and roof leaks.

Court Case #: Suffolk Superior Court C.A. # 97-2281-H

Amount of Verdict: $400,000

Date of Verdict: May 23, 2000

Plaintiff, a 98 unit housing cooperative, retained the defendant architectural firm to provide architectural services in connection with the renovation and rehabilitation of plaintiff’s buildings. One major purpose of this work was to improve attic ventilation. As part of these services the defendant architectural firm also monitored the work and reviewed Change Orders for compliance with the design intent. The architect assigned by the defendant firm to provide these services was also named as a defendant.

The project was mostly completed by 1993.  In the winters of both 1994 and 1995 there was extensive ice damming and resulting roof leaks in plaintiff’s units.  In each of these winters, the plaintiff requested the defendant visit its property to advise whether the ice damming and roof leaks were caused by a structural problem.  In both instances, the architectural firm assigned the individual defendant to conduct such inspections, and in both years this defendant advised the plaintiff that its problems were due to the severe winters.  When the problems  recurred in the winter of 1996, the plaintiff retained an independent structural engineering firm.  Based upon that firm’s review, plaintiff pursued claims against the defendants.

At trial, plaintiff presented expert testimony that the defendant architectural firm’s design, together with the decisions made during contract administration, resulted in attic ventilation which did not comply with the Massachusetts Building Code.  Plaintiff’s expert testified that the initial design was deficient in that it failed to account for “constructability” (the ability of contractors to construct what has been designed) and the need for additional ventilation due to heat sources; that the defendant’s negligent approval of a change order eliminating the addition of a vapor barrier doubled the ventilation requirements while only saving the plaintiff approximately $1200 on a $1.2 million dollar project; and the addition of a perforated metal mesh to eaves vents, with the defendant’s approval, severely restricted the ventilation.  Plaintiff’s expert further testified that the lack of adequate attic ventilation was a substantial contributing factor to the ice damming and resulting roof leaks as well and caused more subtle building damage through condensation and rot.  Plaintiff’s expert also described the repairs necessary to provide adequate attic ventilation and testified that adequate attic ventilation could have been provided initially without significantly increasing the cost of the original projects.  Plaintiff offered into evidence bids for the necessary repairs.

Defendants argued that they were not negligent; that the proposed repairs would not significantly increase ventilation; that plaintiff was seeking to be put in a better position than if the work had been properly performed; that ventilation could be significantly increased at minimal cost and that plaintiff’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations.  Because of the statute of limitations issue, the plaintiff was not only required to prove that defendants were negligent, but that they had misled the plaintiff as to the cause of the ice damming and roof leaks.

After slightly more than an hour of deliberations, the jury awarded the plaintiff $400,000 in damages.  The Court also subsequently held that the defendant architectural firm had violated Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 93A, prohibiting unfair and deceptive trade practices.

 

 

 


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