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The Spearin Doctrine

March 14, 2013

By J Mark. Brewer

The Spearin doctrine is a legal principle that defines and delineates responsibilities for design specifications between contractors and owners. The doctrine was formulated after a 1918 court case involving a New York dry dock worker and the United States government. The worker, who had been contracted to build sewer lines by the government, was found to be not accountable for damages after the sewer line broke a year later. This is because a connecting sewer dam, which caused the damages, had not been included in the original design specifications provided by the government. According to the doctrine, a contractor is not “liable to the owner for loss or damage, which results solely from insufficiencies or defects in such information, plans and specifications.”

The most important effects of this formulation are warranties implied in the pre-design stage of a construction project. The first one places the onus of providing accurate and correct site information on the owner. Designers are not responsible for requirements gathering and site visits during the pre-design stage. The second warranty implies that faulty design based on incorrect information is the owner’s responsibility. Thus, by default, owners are responsible for all site information to contractors.

About the author
J. Mark Brewer is president of a legal firm that specializes in construction disputes.

From → J. Mark Brewer

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