Spotlight on Spearin


Ninety years ago, a dispute over a malfunctioning sewer resulted in judicial

recognition of a legal principal which continues to protect contractors to this

very day. In the 1918 case of U.S. v Spearin, the Supreme Court ruled that a

contractor who relocated a sewer in compliance with dimensions, materials

and specifications outlined in the contract was not responsible for damages

that ensued when the sewer broke up after a sudden rainfall. This concept

became known as the "Spearin Doctrine," which states that an owner impliedly

warrants that its plans and specifications are adequate and sufficient for the

purpose intended, and that a contractor who follows the plans and

specifications prepared by the owner is not responsible for the consequences

of defects in those plans and specifications.

The Spearin Doctrine is based upon the idea that it would be inequitable to

allow an owner to avoid responsibility for the plans and specifications relied

upon by contractors to bid and perform the work, and inequitable to delegate

design risks to a contractor. The fundamental fairness underlying the Spearin

Doctrine accounts for its widespread adoption by state courts across the

country, and for the doctrine being applied by the courts to both public and

private contracts. Jay Bernstein of Ober|Kaler reviews the continuing vitality of that venerable doctrine and how it protects contractors.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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