Allie Ford and Lachlan Jolly have analysed the following court decision and concluded that it highlights the importance to a design professional of:

  • a detailed brief;
  • confirming instructions in writing;
  • keeping contemporaneous records; and
  • clear communication.

Christian Education Ministries – Qld Ltd v Thomson Adsett Pty Ltd [2015] QDC 292

Facts

Christian Education Ministries – Qld Ltd (plaintiff) engaged Thomson Adsett Pty Ltd (defendant), a registered architectural business, to design a new multi-purpose assembly hall for construction at a school operated by the plaintiff. The plaintiff claimed damages against the defendant on the basis of breach of contract and negligence.

The plaintiff argued that its CEO expressly instructed the defendant to design a full-sized basketball court and that this required the facility to be, among other things, at least 7m high (CEO's instruction). The architect's written brief was unclear on this matter. During the construction phase, the plaintiff discovered that the ceiling had an average height of 5m (as designed) and subsequently incurred additional expense in raising the ceiling height.

The defendant said that it had not breached its retainer or been negligent as it did not have record of the CEO's instruction, and the school's principal had instructed it that a full-sized basketball court was not required (principal'sinstruction). The plaintiff argued that even if this were true, the defendant was liable for failing to clarify the plaintiff's instructions.

Decision

Judge Samios held that the defendant breached the contract and was negligent in failing to incorporate the plaintiff's express instruction into the design or, in the alternative, by failing to clarify its instructions.

The court found that the notation on the design describing the court as a 'full-sized basketball court' supported the evidence that the CEO's instruction was given to the architect. The court noted that since the defendant failed to record the principal's instruction, it was unsurprising that no record was made of the CEO's instruction.

The court held that even if the CEO's instruction did not occur, the defendant would still be liable for failing to clarify its instructions following the principal's instruction.