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The Meaning of 'Design Life'

Paper number

Michael Curtis QC

March 2014

A paper presented to the Society of Construction Law at a meeting in London on 11th February 2014

The term 'design life' often appears in contract documents but the words can convey a range of meanings depending on the context. It should not be assumed that the words, whatever they mean, are intended to take effect as a legally enforceable term of the contract. In some circumstances the words may express no more than an aspiration or ambition, intended to satisfy the desire for 'sustainability'. So it is incumbent on the parties to make their intentions clear in the contract. Where it is clear that the words are intended to take effect as some form of warranty, the designer should ensure that he does not unwittingly undertake an absolute obligation for design for which he is unlikely to have liability insurance. Further, a legally effective design life obligation in the original contract or any collateral warranty is not a golden ticket. The law on limitation and the limited availability of long term insurance backed warranties provide practical hurdles to enforcement.

Introduction - 1. The meaning of the words 'design life' - 2. The legal meaning of the term 'design life' - 3. The legal context - 4. Design life - practical obstacles to an enforceable legal duty.

The author: Michael Curtis QC MA MSc is a barrister practising at Crown Office Chambers, London.

Text 8 pages.