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How can the Spearin Doctrine protect in defective workmanship claims?

Learn what the Spearin Doctrine is and how it may help you defend against defective workmanship claims. Find out the details of how to use it.

When a contractor in Pennsylvania starts working on a project, he or she is under a contract. The contract may stipulate many things. However, in some cases, what is in the contract could help prevent the contractor from claims of defective workmanship under something called the Spearin Doctrine.

The Spearin Doctrine defined

According to the American Bar Association, this claim comes from a 1918 case, United States v. Spearin. At its core, it says that a contractor is not liable for defects in any plans, designs or specifications provided by the other party to the contract. It creates an implied warranty for any plans or designs the client gives to the contractor to use in a project.

For example, a contractor is working with ABC Company to build a warehouse. ABC Company provides the contractor with a plan that the contractor must use to build the warehouse. The final project has defects that are a result of the plans provided by the client. In this case, the contractor likely holds no liability for said defects.

How it is applied

Applying the Spearin Doctrine during litigation may not be as straightforward as the definition. There are some requirements that a contractor must meet to evoke this defense. First, contractors must prove there was not any discretion allowed when following the plans, designs or specifications given by the client. For example, if the client tells the contractor he or she cannot deviate from the design plans, then there is no discretion. On the other hand, if the plans are given as a suggestion or a starting point, then discretion may occur and void the ability to use the Spearin Doctrine.

According to PHCP Pros, it is difficult to apply this defense when a contractor is involved in creating the designs and plans for a project. In a case like this, it comes down to how insistent the client is about following his or her instructions and not allowing the contractor to make changes. Essentially, what this defense comes down to is that a contractor must prove there was a defect in the design or plan given to him or her by the client that the contractor was unable to deviate from because of the insistence of the client.

If you find yourself facing defective workmanship claims, it is well worth it to consider using the Spearin Doctrine in your defense. However, because the doctrine can be complicated, it is wise to seek the counsel of an attorney, such as Laputka, Bayless, Ecker & Cohn, PC.