When an owner or developer provides detailed design documents to a construction contractor and requires that the contractor build in accordance with those design documents, it has long been held that the owner impliedly warrants to the contractor that the design is adequate and free from defects. This implied warranty analysis is most frequently referred to as the “Spearin doctrine,” after the 1918 United States Supreme Court opinion that was one of the first to employ it. See United States v. Spearin, 248 U.S. 132 (1918). In fact, there was actually Pennsylvania precedent predating the famous Spearin opinion that articulated the same idea, and Pennsylvania courts have continued to apply Spearin‘s principles. See, e.g., Department of Transp. v. W.P. Dickerson & Son, Inc., 400 A.2d 930 (Pa.Cmwlth. 1979).
Perhaps a more straightforward way of expressing the Spearin doctrine is that, if the owner prepares the detailed design solution or retains a separate architect or engineer to do so, the owner controls the design and necessarily retains the risk that the design is defective. The owner may seek to hold its design professional liable for the problem, subject to any agreed limitations in the design professional’s contract, but not the contractor.