The Spearin Doctrine Explained

Jul 27, 2017

A short history of the Spearin Doctrine

The Spearin Doctrine, or the doctrine of implied warranty of adequacy, is one of most basic tenets of construction law.

It was first established in United States v. Spearin (248 U.S. 132) in 1918.

Matthew DeVries, writing in BEST PRACTICES CONSTRUCTION LAW, provided a brief summary of the doctrine after reading “about a recent case where the Missouri Court of Appeals formally adopted the Spearin Doctrine.”

Spearin contracted with the federal government to “build a dry-dock in the Brooklyn Naval Yard.” To accomplish this, he relocated a sewer line that ran underneath the pad for the dock. This was done according to the plans and specifications provided by the owner (the federal government.)

A year later, after the work had been “approved and accepted… a dam in a connecting sewer caused flooding in the area excavated for the dry-dock.”

The government filed suit claiming Spearin failed to properly investigate site conditions.

Spearin countered that he relied upon the information provided him by the government, which did not show the existence of the dam, and that it was reasonable for him to do so.

The U. S. Supreme court agreed with Spearin. “‘…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. This responsibility of the owner is not overcome by the usual clause requiring builders to visit the site, to check the plans, and to inform themselves of the requirements of the work…the contractor should be relieved, if he was misled by erroneous statements in the specifications.”

Mr. DeVries notes that there are now limitations to the rule, established by the Ohio Supreme Court ruling in Dugan & Meyers Construction Co. v. Ohio Dept. of Administrative Services. Here the court ruled that “the Spearin Doctrine did not apply to cases involving delays due to design changes if a contract contains a ‘no damages for delay” clause.”


Spearin Doctrine: A Construction Case Described in A Tweet! Matthew DeVries,


United States v. Spearin, Wikipedia