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Owner’s Negligence Suit Against Structural Engineer Untimely

In Preyde One, LLC v. Hoffman Consultants, LLC, 2020 WL 908943 (Mich. App. Feb. 25, 2020), a Michigan appellate court ruled that a project owner’s claim against a structural engineer was a malpractice claim, governed by the malpractice statute of limitations and untimely. Preyde One, LLC (“Owner”) sued Glasers Lumber (“Glasers”) for breach of contract for allegedly providing defective work and materials on the construction of a hotel. Glasers identified Hoffman Consultants, LLC (“Hoffman”), the structural engineer for the hotel, as a responsible non-party and Owner filed a Second Amended Complaint against Hoffman, alleging Hoffman negligently prepared the drawings and specifications and negligently inspected and supervised the structural work. 

Hoffman was hired by Owner’s architect and Owner never entered into a contract directly with Hoffman. On August 25, 2015, Hoffman performed its last professional services in connection with the hotel. Owner did not file its claim against Hoffman until more than two (2) years later, on June 14, 2018. Under Michigan law, the professional malpractice statute of limitations is two (2) years.  

Hoffman moved for summary judgment and argued that Owner’s claim was barred by the two-year statute of limitations governing malpractice actions.  Owner argued that it did not have a contractual relationship with Hoffman, and therefore its claim was for negligence, which has a three (3) year statute of limitations.

The trial court denied Hoffman’s Motion. On appeal, the Appeals Court reversed and remanded with directions for the trial court to grant the Motion. The issue on appeal was whether Hoffman’s structural engineering work was considered professional services. The Michigan personal injury statute provides, “[a]n action against a state licensed architect or professional engineer or licensed professional surveyor arising from professional services rendered is an action charging malpractice” is subject to the two-year period of limitation. Mich. Comp. Laws Ann.  Sections 600.3805(3); 600.5805(8). 

The Court held Hoffman’s design work qualified as professional services rendered, reasoning that the alleged negligent acts of preparing drawings and specifications for the hotel constituted engineering services. Even though the parties did not have a contractual relationship, the Court ruled that Hoffman provided professional services to the Owner by providing structural engineering services for the hotel. The Court further held that because the Michigan legislature did not specifically require it, Section 600.3805 does not require a contractual relationship in order for the malpractice statute to apply. 

This case provides structural engineers in Michigan with a mechanism to argue project owners’ claims are barred after two years. Even if the project engineer is not in a contractual relationship with the owner, this holding allows engineers in Michigan to argue their work “arises from professional services,” and thus, qualifies for the two-year time frame, rather than the extended three-year period applicable to ordinary negligence suits.