Design Defect Bill Passes Texas Senate

by Patrick Mulry

April 12, 2021

The legislation commonly referred to as the “design defect bill” passed the Texas Senate on Thursday, April 8. The vote on Senate Bill 219 was 29-1, indicating that this fundamental change in Texas law has broad bipartisan support. The bill has been forwarded to the House and is expected to be voted on and passed in the next few weeks and then signed into law by Gov. Abbott later this spring.

The heart of the design defect bill is that a contractor cannot be held responsible for the consequences of defects in, and may not warranty the accuracy, adequacy, sufficiency, or suitability of plans, specifications, or other design or bid documents provided to the contractor by the person with whom the contractor entered into a construction contract (or another person on behalf of the contracting person, typically the owner or owner’s representative). Exempted from the protections afforded by the bill are projects designated as critical infrastructure facilities and projects performed under a design-build contract. Also exempted from the bill are design-build portions of work (for example, swimming pools or fire protection systems) that are part of a larger project which is not itself a design-build project.

This bill represents a major change in Texas law that should have substantial positive effects for contractors which, under current law, may have exposure to damages caused by a design defect not caused by the contractor and for which the contractor otherwise has no recourse against the responsible design professional.

Additionally, the design defect bill contains a mandatory prohibition of waiver which prevents the owner from contracting around this protection for the contractor. In return, the bill requires the contractor, which includes all tiers of contractors and subcontractors, to notify the owner if the contractor learns of a defect in the design documents, or of a design defect that the contractor should reasonably have discovered using ordinary diligence before or during construction. Such notice must be given within a reasonable time of learning of the design defect. The language of the bill is thematically similar to the notice concept already embodied in sections 3.2.2 and 3.2.3 of the AIA A201 general conditions, so it does not impose a requirement that should be unfamiliar to most contractors of size.

If passed, the bill will go into effect on September 1, 2021. As we have seen with other construction-related legislation over the past several decades, this bill will not apply retroactively, but instead will apply only to contracts entered into on or after September 1, 2021. Application of the law to subcontracts is based not on the subcontract date, but upon the date into which the prime contract was entered.

Should the design defect bill become law, contractors will want to consult with counsel for important revisions to their prime contracts, as well as for revisions to subcontract agreements to ensure that all contract forms are in compliance with the new law.


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