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COA rules on negligence claims in library case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment today in favor of engineering and construction companies in a lawsuit filed by a central Indiana library, finding the economic-loss doctrine bars the library's negligence claims against the companies.

Whether the claims could be pursued because of an exception to the doctrine caused one judge to dissent.

The issue in The Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library v. Charlier Clark & Linard, P.C. and Thornton Tomasetti Engineers, et al., No. 06A05-0804-CV-239, is whether the library's negligence claims against the companies as a result of delays and defects in the construction of an expanded central library in downtown Indianapolis are barred under the economic-loss doctrine.

The defendants in this case were hired directly by the architect of record in the project instead of the library, and the library never purchased any services directly from them.

After construction began, major defects were discovered in the underground parking lot that would also serve as structural foundation for the building. The flaws required suspension of work and substantial work to fix the defects. The delays allegedly cost the library nearly $50 million.

The library's suit asserts several claims against the companies, including that they negligently performed their services on the project. The trial court granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment because the economic-loss doctrine barred the negligence claims.

The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed summary judgment in favor of Charlier Clark & Linard on the library's negligence claim. The appellate court looked to Indiana and other jurisdictions' rulings on the economic-loss doctrine. The damages claimed by the library are "economic losses" that arose from the design and construction of the project, and didn't affect other property, so the claims aren't recoverable in tort, wrote Chief Judge John Baker.

In regards to the library's argument that it should be able to pursue its negligence claims because of certain exceptions to the doctrine, the appellate court found none were applicable in this case against CCL.

The majority held the claims against Thornton Thomasetti Engineers, which provided structural engineering services for the project, also didn't hold up under any of the exceptions. Judge Elaine Brown dissented because she believed there is a question of fact regarding imminent danger as to TTE and that summary judgment under the economic-loss doctrine was inappropriate.

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