U.S. District Court in Florida Rules Expert Witness Not Required to Establish Architectural or Engineering Standards of Care, Where Claims Based on Rejection of Designs for Noncompliance With Codes

Lillibridge Health Care Services, Inc. v. Hunton Brady Architects, P.A.
2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34210 (M.D. Fla. April 7, 2010)

Lillibridge Healthcare Services, Inc. sued Hunton Brady Architects, P.A. and Heery International, Inc. for breach of contract, negligent design, and negligent misrepresentation.

Hunton had entered into an agreement with Mediplex Medical Building Corporation (“MMBC”) to prepare documents and to provide other services for the construction of a four story, steel frame medical office building located in Celebration, Florida. MMBC assigned its rights under that contract to Lillibridge. Heery had assumed obligations under a subcontract with Hunton to perform the engineering work for the Project.

During and after construction, three alleged design problems relating to applicable code arose giving rise to Lillibridge’s claims. First, code officials rejected engineering documents for the HVAC system for a floor of the building because for violating code, because they specified a single air handling unit for both an ambulatory surgical center and physician offices. Second, the electrical plan was rejected as non-code compliant because ground fault protection was not specified for all circuits. Third, the lighting system design improperly specified stem lengths for lighting fixtures in the port cohere, and were as a result damaged by a truck when the building opened.

Hunton and Heery moved for summary judgment on Lillibridge’s claims asserting that Lillibridge’s expert, an engineer, was not qualified to testify as to either the architectural standard of care or the standard of care for engineers.

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida denied Hunton’s and Heery’s Motions. Specifically, the court held that because Lillibrdige’s claims were based on alleged failures to ensure code compliance, they were not of such a technical or specialized nature that expert testimony was required. According to the court, record evidence existed that various systems on the project were rejected because they failed to comply with relevant code. As such, the ultimate issues were who was at fault and who was legally responsible for the fact that the systems did not comply with the code. Those issues, based on the court’s holding, did not appear to require, or perhaps did not even permit, presentation of expert testimony.

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