In some states, courts allow contractors to sue design professionals for negligence even in the absence of a contract. In others, like Maryland, courts apply a rule known as the Economic Loss Rule (ELR) to bar such claims. Courts apply the ELR when, without a contract in place, someone sues another for purely financial losses (i.e., not for personal injuries or property damage). The ELR is very important in the construction world because contractors who sustain losses that they attribute to substandard design documents often sue the design professional who prepared the plans and specifications, even though they rarely have a contract with the designer.
In a recent case – Balfour Beatty Infrastructure, Inc. v. Rummel Klepper & Kahl, LLP – the Maryland Court of Special Appeals (“Court”) reaffirmed the ELR and rejected various claims brought by a contractor against a design professional. The Balfour Beatty Infrastructure case involved a public works project for the City of Baltimore (“City”). The City entered into contracts with the design and engineering firm Rummel Klepper & Kahl, LLP (“RK & K”) to upgrade a water treatment plant. The City also entered into a contract with Balfour Beatty Infrastructure, Inc. (“Balfour”) to build the upgrades. Balfour did not have a contract with RK & K. Due to a series of design errors, Balfour suffered delays during construction and performed additional work that it attributed to the design errors. Based on these facts, Balfour sued RK & K for professional negligence and negligent misrepresentation, alleging that RK & K supplied false information to prospective bidders and failed to establish a reasonable contract duration.