When an owner provides plans or specifications to a contractor, there is an implied warranty that the plans and specifications are sufficient and adequate to perform the contracted work. The Supreme Court of the United States first recognized this implied warranty of plans and specifications, known as the Spearin Doctrine, in 1918. U.S. v. Spearin, 248 U.S. 132 (1918).
In Spearin, the federal government provided plans to a contractor who relied on the plans when relocating a sewer pipe. The plans furnished by the government to the contractor specified the dimensions, material, and location of the sewer pipe. The work was completed as specified, but a year later, during a high tide and after heavy rain, the sewer pipe overflowed. After the government terminated the contract because the contractor refused to take responsibility and remedy the improper sewer pipe, litigation ensued. The Supreme Court found that “if the contractor is bound to build according to plans and specifications prepared by the owner, the contractor will not be responsible for the consequences of defects in the plans and specifications.”
Massachusetts adopted the Spearin Doctrine and the implied warranty of plans and specifications in Alpert v. Com., 357 Mass. 306 (1970). The Department of Public Works provided an inaccurate representation of the amount of unsuitable material located on a site and failed to provide the contractor with full soil borings reports. The contractor was awarded damages for its financial loss incurred due to its reliance on the plans and specifications furnished by the Department of Public Works.
Contractors should always inquire if there are any ambiguous provisions or obvious mistakes in plans or specifications, and owners should insure that the plans and specifications they provide are accurate.