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June 1st, 2017
architects and engineers
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK GRANTS AN ARCHITECT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AGAINST CROSS CLAIMS FOR INDEMNIFICATION AND CONTRIBUTION BASED ON CONSTRUCTION DEVIATIONS FROM THE ARCHITECT’S DESIGN

In Corwin v. NYC Bike Share, LLC, No. 14-CV-1285, 2017 WL 1399034 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 13, 2017), the Southern District of New York granted a Motion for Summary Judgment in favor of Alta Planning + Design + Architecture of New York, PLLC (“APD”) against the City of New York (the “City”) based on deviations from APD’s design of a bike share station which the Court concluded constituted an intervening cause of the alleged damage.

On April 10, 2012, the City entered into an agreement with NYC Bike Share, LLC (“NYCBS”) for the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and publicizing of “Citi Bike,” a network of self-service bike share stations with publicly available bicycles.  The agreement required NYCBS to design and install on-street bike parking stations with appropriate protections and markings from adjacent parking and moving traffic, including non-permanent bollards and paint markings.  NYCBS contracted with APD to provide planning and site design of the Citi Bike stations.  Without APD’s knowledge or approval, the footprint of one such station was enlarged, to include a temporary riding lane, and a concrete wheel stop.

On October 25, 2013, Ronald D. Corwin was injured while riding a Citi Bike when he collided with the concrete wheel stop.  Mr. Corwin sued the City and APD, among others.  The City filed cross claims against APD for indemnification and contribution based on APD’s alleged negligent design of the station.

The City argued APD’s design was defective and contributed to Mr. Corwin’s injury because APD failed to insist on conspicuous wheel stop colors or to call for shorter, less intrusive wheel stops.  The Court rejected this argument, noting the question at issue was whether APD’s design for the Station played a causal role in the particular accident in question, not whether including the wheel stop was professionally negligent.  The Court held the wheel stop was a deviation from APD’s design, and this was an “absolute defense to liability,” because it had cut off the causal link between Mr. Corwin’s injuries and APD’s design.

The Court’s decision in Corwin is good for a design professional.  It reaffirms that an architect or engineer is not liable where construction deviates from the design.  As the Court explained, deviations from an architect or engineer’s design extinguishes the causal connection between a defect and an injury suffered by a third party.

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