Unbeknownst to most contractors, Louisiana law provides a form of statutory immunity designed to help contractors avoid liability. According to Revised Statute 9:2771, a contractor will not be responsible for defective work if the contractor followed the plans and specifications it was provided:
No contractor, including but not limited to a residential building contractor as defined in R.S. 37:2150.1(9), shall be liable for destruction or deterioration of or defects in any work constructed, or under construction, by him if he constructed, or is constructing, the work according to plans or specifications furnished to him which he did not make or cause to be made and if the destruction, deterioration, or defect was due to any fault or insufficiency of the plans or specifications. This provision shall apply regardless of whether the destruction, deterioration, or defect occurs or becomes evident prior to or after delivery of the work to the owner or prior to or after acceptance of the work by the owner. The provisions of this Section shall not be subject to waiver by the contractor.
In order for the immunity to apply, there are a number of elements a contractor must prove to the court. The first obvious element is that the contractor did not provide the plans and specifications. Second, the contractor must show that the plans and specifications were strictly adhered to. Finally, the contractor must prove that there was no reason to believe that the plans and specifications provided would lead to a hazardous condition. In other words, a contractor cannot “blindly” rely on plans and specifications and expect shelter from 9:2771. (Cormier v. Honiron Corp., 2000-446 (La. App. 3 Cir. 9/27/00); 771 So.2d 193.)
One Louisiana court held that a contractor should have known of a hazardous condition when the contractor installed a tennis surface on a court that the contractor knew would be used for basketball. (Morgan v. Lafourche Recreation Dist. No. 5, 2001-1191 (La. App. 1 Cir. 6/21/02); 822 So.2d 716.) In another example, one court found that a contractor should have known of a hazardous condition when it failed to recognize that the wiring design on an air-conditioning unit it installed could cause the unit to explode. (Van Alton v. Fisk Elec., Inc., 531 So.2d 1175 (La. App. 4th Cir. 1988).)
PRACTICE TIP: While this immunity can provide a safe harbor for contractors, it is not absolute. As such, it is important to always review plans and specifications provided from a third party to ensure there is no potential for a hazardous condition.