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Continuous Treatment Doctrine Applied To Sustain a Claim Against Architect

There is a three year statute of limitations for malpractice claims against architects and other design professionals. These claims generally begin to accrue upon the completion of the work in issue. However, a cause of action against a design professional may be tolled based upon the “continuous treatment” doctrine if the plaintiff can show it relied upon a continuous course of service related to the original work performed. The Second Department recently issued an opinion which applied this doctrine to uphold, at the pleading stage, a claim based upon a contractual relationship which started more than ten years before the legal action was commenced.

In Anderson v. Pinn, 2020 WL 3554992, 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 03636 (2nd Dep’t) the Plaintiff entered into a contract in 2005 with an architecture firm for the design of a construction project. Because Plaintiff lost its funding for the project, the physical construction work apparently stopped in 2008. Prior to that time, Plaintiff had discovered that the utilities in the two buildings being constructed would have to be installed separately. The Architect, according to the Complaint, stated this has been an “oversight” on its part, but that subdividing the property “would not be a problem.”

In 2015 and 2018, Plaintiff and the Architect entered into a new contract for the project. The Architect filed numerous unsuccessful applications with the Department of Buildings for the subdivision. The Architect died, and never completed the project.

In 2018 Plaintiff commenced a legal malpractice action against the executor of the Architect’s estate (the “Defendant”). Defendant moved to dismiss the Complaint, alleging that the malpractice action was time barred based on the three year statute of limitations. The trial level court granted the motion. On appeal, the Second Department reversed, and allowed the malpractice claim to go forward.

The Second Department, relying on the Complaint and reasonable inferences, noted that the project was not completed in 2008. Additional work on the project regarding the subdividing of the property was resumed after that time. Although the parties entered into new contracts in 2015 and 2018, they were for the same project as the project which was the subject of the 2005 contract, and accordingly these claims were not time barred.

The Court also noted that the Architect had continued to work on the Project between 2008 and the execution of the 2015 agreement, which additionally served to extend any statute of limitations.

The Anderson opinion underscores that a design professional may not cut off potential liability for claims by entering into a new contract. If the new agreement concerns the same project as a prior contract which can form the basis of liability, the design professional will be potentially liable for all claims starting from the commencement of the project.

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