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Austin Balcony Collapse: A Case Study — Liability of the Engineer and/or Architect

Can the engineer or architect who designed the collapsed balcony be sued?

Yes.  In many cases involving improper construction of a structure, the case against the designer (whether it’s an engineer or an architect) may be a better case than the case against the person that owns or is occupying the property.

The case against the designer is a negligence case.  To prevail, the injured person must prove that the engineer or architect designed the project improperly.  Those claims can show up in a host of ways.  For example, the designer may have made a miscalculation of the maximum load that the balcony would support (or the designer might not have done any calculations at all).  Or the designer might have made an error or inconsistency in the blueprints (we just settled a case like that last week).  Regardless of the error, the designer of a project can be liable for a victim’s injuries if the error was a cause of the problem.

The reason that these cases may be easier is that in a case against the owner/occupier of the premises, as we discussed yesterday, the injured person likely has to prove that the owner/occupier knew or should have known about the dangerous condition.  In a case against the designer, the injured person doesn’t have that burden — they don’t have to prove that the designer knew that it made an error in the design process.  That makes a big difference in some claims.

Claims against architects and engineers do have their own special rules in some instances  (for example, you have to file a special expert report when suing them, you may have less time than normal to sue them, and there may be protections for injuries that occur to construction workers during construction of the project), but none of those seem to apply in this case yet.

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