The Spearin Doctrine in Texas

Recent Changes in Texas Regarding the Spearin Doctrine

Construction projects do not always go smoothly, to the consternation of property owners and construction companies. Sometimes the surprises are unforeseeable and unavoidable, but sometimes they are the result of carelessness, miscommunication, or poor planning. Given the time and expense of these projects, the courts have often been involved in determining liability when construction projects fail. Two such court cases resulted in opposite decisions about liability on construction projects. One case became known as the Lonergan Doctrine, which Texas followed from 1907 until only very recently. The other case became known as the Spearin Doctrine, which Texas adopted in September of 2021. Both cases focus on liability when construction plans or specs are defective.

The Lonergan Doctrine

The Lonergan Doctrine asserts that the contractor is responsible for implementing the owner’s plans. In doing so, the contractor is warranting the accuracy of those plans, thus accepting liability even when the plans are faulty. The only options for a contractor to avoid liability with the Lonergan Doctrine are either to include language in the contract which shifts liability to the owner for faulty plans and specs or to refuse to even bid on such a project. Until September of 2021, Texas was one of the few states still adhering to this doctrine.

The Spearin Doctrine

The case of United States vs. Spearin shifted that liability when it was brought to the Supreme Court in 1918. In that landmark construction case, the Court ruled in favor of Spearin, who had accepted a contract with the United States government to move a storm sewer. Spearin followed the plans provided by the government with disastrous results. The Court ruled that, “if the contractor is bound to build according to plans and specifications prepared by the owner, the contractor will not be responsible for the consequences of defects in the plans and specifications.” Once this ruling was made, most states abandoned the Lonergan Doctrine and adopted the Spearin Doctrine, shifting liability for faulty construction from construction project managers to property owners.

Recent Legislation

By passing Senate Bill 219, effective in September of 2021, Texas has now joined the majority of other states in accepting the Spearin Doctrine when determining liability for construction projects. The owner is now liable for faulty plans or specs on construction projects. The bill also stipulates, however, that a contractor should practice due diligence to discover any potential defects and then notify the owner of those design defects.

While the statute has changed, any construction project should start with a fair and enforceable contract. The decision to work with an experienced lawyer on a construction project, from its initial stages to its completion, benefits everyone involved.

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