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This case arises out of the West Pier Facilities project at the Port of Gulfport, Mississippi (Project). Southern Industrial Contractors, LLC (SIC), the Project’s general contractor, filed suit for negligence against CH2M, the Project’s program manager and consultant, to recover increased costs incurred while excavating and working around underground debris at the Project site. SIC alleged first that CH2M owed it a duty to ensure that the Project plans, specifications and bidding documents accurately represented the Project’s conditions, and second that CH2M breached this duty by failing to warn SIC of the underground obstructions it had encountered. SIC argued that, as a result of CH2M’s breach, the Project became much more expensive and time-consuming. CH2M filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing it owed no duty to SIC.
The court first recognized that Mississippi law imposes upon design professionals, such as architects and engineers, a duty to exercise ordinary skill and diligence, and further, that Mississippi law allows third parties to rely upon the contractual obligations that a design professional owes to a project’s owner. The court explained that, because of the design professional’s contractual obligations to the owner, the design professional owes a further duty, sounding in tort, to a contractor who relies upon the design to his economic detriment. The court recognized that whether the design professional owes such a duty to a contractor is a factual determination that must be made on a case-by-case basis.