Defining the Zone of Foreseeable Risk

By Lindsey D. Smith, Esq.


While architects and engineers understand that, by signing a contract to perform design services, they owe a duty to those with whom they contract, they may not be aware that the law extends that duty to others with whom they did not contract. Moreover, they may not be aware that courts in different states apply different legal principles to determine the scope of the duty owed. Recently, in Florida, the Supreme Court articulated the “Zone of Foreseeable Risk” as that state’s test for determining to whom a duty is owed. There, the Court found that the Defendant could be held liable for the Plaintiff’s injuries caused when a third party hit the Plaintiff with a hatchet. Invoking the “Zone of Foreseeable Risk,” the Court found that the Defendant had broadened the Zone of Foreseeable Risk such that he could be liable for the third party’s actions because he had physically restrained the Plaintiff. By restraining the Plaintiff, the Defendant created a situation where it was foreseeable that the Plaintiff could be injured by a third party. Although this case involved a situation not generally relevant to the design professional’s performance of services, the Court’s application of this doctrine to find a duty and, thus, its broadening of the zone of foreseeable risk is something that architects and engineers should be aware of when performing, and agreeing to perform, professional design services.

Read more about this Florida case here.