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Museum of Liverpool legal battle to open litigation floodgates

The Museum of Liverpool’s £3.5 million courtroom dispute with AEW could be the tip of the iceberg for a surge in legal claims against architects, according to law firm Taylor Wessing

The company has said that litigation against executive architects AEW over issues with the £72 million museum’s ceiling and stairs was proof the ‘recession [was] finally taking its toll on our landmark construction projects’.

Aine McCartney, senior associate at the company’s Construction & Engineering group (pictured, right), warned that architects would ‘inevitably see a rise’ in litigations as the economy means developers reduce spends and contractors are forced to slash margins.

‘[Contractor’s] can no longer afford to accept changes, or even uncertainties, in their scope of the works without cost consequences.   And the designers, already struggling with a reduced workload and lower fees, can’t afford to spend extra time on dealing with potential issues’, she said.  

‘We will inevitably see a rise in claims against designers as issues arise that may previously have been wrapped up as part of the deal.  All parties need to be clear about where their responsibilities begin and end, particularly around key uncertainties such as design co-ordination, design detail and buildability.’

Details of the museum’s legal action where revealed in papers filed at the High Court.

According to reports, the organisation accused AEW of breaching its duty of care and failing to design a suspended ceiling ‘adequately, or indeed, at all’.

It was also alleged the architect was responsible for ‘defective’ design in other areas of the museum including an entrance terrace and series of precast concrete steps.

Last year, the Manchester-based practice successfully recouped £500,000 in unpaid fees for work on the museum after going to arbitration.

AEW replaced the museum original architect 3XN in 2007, but both companies are subject to legal claims by the client.

In May, the Museum of Liverpool launched a legal case against 3XN which was exposed following a Freedom of Information request to the museum by the AJ. Details of the claim remain unclear.

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