Sensenbrenner v. Rust, Orling & Neale, Architects, Inc – Case Brief Summary (Virginia)

In Sensenbrenner v. Rust, Orling & Neale, Architects, Inc., 236 Va. 419, 374 S.E.2d 55, 5 Va. Law Rep. 1040 (Va. 1988), the plaintiffs were private individuals who contracted with a general contractor to construct a home with a swimming pool. Id. at 56.

The general contractor subcontracted with an architect to design the home and pool and a builder to construct the pool. Id.

The plaintiffs sued both subcontractors, alleging that the pool was negligently designed and constructed, causing foundation damage to the house. Id.

Answering a certified question from the federal court of appeals, the Supreme Court of Virginia concluded:

The plaintiffs here allege nothing more than disappointed economic expectations. They contracted with a builder for the purchase of a package. The package included land, design services, and construction of a dwelling. The package also included a foundation for the dwelling, a pool, and a pool enclosure. The package is alleged to have been defective--one or more of its component parts was sufficiently substandard as to cause damage to other parts. The effect of the failure of the substandard parts to meet the bargained-for level of quality was to cause a diminution in the value of the whole, measured by the cost of repair. This is a purely economic loss, for which the law of contracts provides the sole remedy.

Recovery in tort is available only when there is a breach of a duty "to take care for the safety of the person or property of another." . . . The subcontractors assumed no such duty to the plaintiffs by contract, and the plaintiffs' complaint alleges no facts showing a breach of any such duty imposed by law. Id. at 58.