Law BooksYes, we know. We’ve given them a shout-out before, but it’s well-deserved. Here’s an excerpt from their most recent post, an answer to a design professional FAQ:

Why are some words in your contracts capitalized and others aren’t?

I recently received a telephone call from a policyholder asking this question because of a minor issue that arose when the term “notice of award” was capitalized in the general conditions, but was not capitalized in the instructions to bidders. His attorney advised that “it could be argued” (a not-unusual term for an attorney to use when trying to interpret contract language) that since the term was not capitalized in the instructions to bidders that it was not the same as the written notice defined in section 1 of the general conditions. The policyholder advised that the issue of telephone notification vs. written notification had been resolved, but it got him thinking about the many terms in his contract documents that are sometimes capitalized and sometimes not and he wondered why.

Capitalized words by convention usually mean defined terms. For example, “XYZ Corporation (‘Client’) promises to….” allows the rest of the contract to use “Client” instead of the full name. The same applies to other defined terms. You define them and then use the capitalized word thereafter to differentiate it from common English terms interpreted as their common meaning.

Visit the Schinnerer RM Blog to continue reading…

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Before a design professional decides whether or not to report a professional liability claim, or circumstance out of which a claim might arise, he or she must understand the definition of a claim, circumstance and what is required of them under their policy. The pros and cons of reporting or not reporting a claim are more fully explored in this Practice Notes.

Why Firms Neglect to Report Claims

From an insurance provider’s point of view, it seems that design firms faced with a claim (or a potential claim) too often come close to jeopardizing their professional liability insurance (PLI) coverage. Many firms resist calling their insurance provider to report the matter or ask for advice. Their reasons tend to fall within one of four categories:

Ignorance. They do not realize what their policy requires of them when they are presented with a claim or possible claim.

Fear. They fear the black mark on their claim history more than they fear the claimant.

Denial. They believe that ignoring the problem will produce the best result.

Resolve. They have read their policies, understand the risks, embraced that the issue exists andafter this careful analysis, choose not to report.

Know Your Terminology

Claims

It is critical that insurance policyholders understand their duties, responsibilities, and benefits under their PLI contract. One of the duties is to report all claims promptly.

What defines a claim? Most policies refer to it as a “demand for money or services.” So the telephone call from the angry client asking you to pay for damages they believe they have suffered as a result of your professional services would rise to the definition of “claim” under most policies.

Why is this definition important? Remember, you must report claims promptly. Failure to meet your obligations under the insurance policy may jeopardize your coverage.

Possible claims

It is important to know how your insurance policy defines a “claim” versus a “possible claim.” Possible claims typically do not rise to the definition of “claim” but could become one. Policies generally define possible claims as “a circumstance from which you reasonably expect that a claim could be made.”

Are you required to report these instances to your insurance company? Maybe. Most policies read, “if you report a circumstance,” but some state, “you must give written notice.” The circumstance provision in most policies goes on to say that if you follow the reporting requirements, “then any claim that may subsequently be made against you arising out of such circumstance shall be deemed to have been made on the date the insurance company received written notice of the circumstance.”

With some policy forms, firms have a fair amount of discretion on whether to report a “circumstance,” unlike the requirement that you promptly report all claims. Keep in mind that most PLI policies for design firms are claims-made, which means that insurance cove rage is not retroactive to an unreported occurrence. Continue reading “To Report or Not To Report? A Potential Claims Question…”

The Travelers Contract Solutions Matrix

travelerslogoWhen it comes to insuring architects, engineers, and design consultants, one thing the top-tier Professional Liability insurance providers have in common is a wealth of risk management resources for their clients. Some of these resources are even made available to the public. For example, in the past, we’ve blogged War Stories: Real-life Claims Scenarios from Victor O. Schinnerer and Beazley Pro, a new publication from Beazley.

But if, in the course of the day, you come up against an insurance term you wish you understood better, the Travelers Contract Solutions Matrix is a good place to look for your answer

Organized glossary style, this index begins with A Well-Written Contract and ends with Waiver of Subrogation. It’s a place to find definitions, explanations, examples, and answers to frequently asked questions, each presented in the form of a concise two-page document. Other relevant topics included are Additional Insureds, Duty to Defend, Requests for Information, and Unauthorized Changes.

The following is an excerpt from the Travelers Contract Solutions Matrix document on Insurance Requirements:

III. Negotiating points

Policy Limits. You may be asked to provide higher limits than you maintain under your current professional liability or other insurance policy. You may be able to recoup that additional cost of higher limits from the other party to the contract through higher fees. In some cases, specific job excess or specific client excess coverage is available to increase limits on a single project or for a single client.

Length of Obligation. Since professional liability coverage is written on a claims-made basis, you may be asked to maintain the coverage for years following completion of the project. You should negotiate a reasonable period of time in light of the economics of the project and the applicable statute of limitations/statute of repose.

Insurability. Typically, professional liability policies do not cover express warranties and guarantees or liability assumed by contract (liability beyond what a design professional would normally have under the law). Therefore, it is important to evaluate each provision in a proposed contract to verify that you are not guaranteeing your work or being held to a standard of care that is greater than what is imposed by law. In particular, any indemnity clause should be carefully reviewed for this issue.

Download the full PDF version of this resource to find information on Professional Liability, Commercial General Liability (CGL), Workers’ Compensation and Employers’ Liability, and Commercial Auto Liability.

We hope this perk from Travelers is helpful to you. Of course, if you have insurance questions, you can always contact your local a/e ProNet broker and get a quick, straight, specialized answer.

PNN_201403_Waiver of Subrogation A Valid Defense for Architects and EngineersAn attorney is asked to defend an architect in a claim for defective design of a geothermal HVAC system, which allegedly caused an explosion and several million dollars of property damage to an owner’s manufacturing facility. He reviews the file, making notes. The plaintiff is the owner’s casualty insurer, which has paid the claim and sued the general contractor in subrogation. It’s actually the general contractor who has named the architect as a third-party defendant, seeking contribution and indemnity. All sorts of interesting defenses present themselves: statute of repose (work was completed years ago), no common law indemnity claim, no negligence…but what about the contracts for the original project?

Contained within the AIA A201 General Conditions is a boiler plate “waiver of subrogation” clause. It appears to bar subrogation claims for damages covered by insurance on the property. The owner’s carrier picked up the tab, so how can it sue in subrogation now? Are these waivers of subrogation provisions enforceable?

Since the project is in North Carolina, our inquiry starts with a 1987 North Carolina Court of Appeals decision, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company v. Freeman-White Associates, Inc. The case involves an architect who performed design services for a Charlotte, North Carolina hospital. During construction, a wing of the hospital collapsed, causing significant property damage. The hospital’s insurer paid the claim under an “all risk” policy and then sued the architect in subrogation. The agreements between the parties to the construction incorporated the AIA A201 General Conditions, including its standard waiver of subrogation clause, and the clause was applied by the trial court to dismiss the complaint against the architect under Rule 12(b)6. Unfortunately, on appeal, the court of appeals declined to enforce the waiver of subrogation provision and reversed the trial court’s dismissal.

The rationale? The appeals court held that because the contract required the architect to provide coverage for its own errors and omissions, the contract was susceptible to two interpretations: 1) the true intent of the contracting parties was that the owner would waive all claims for damages against which the owner had insured itself; or 2) the contracting parties intended for the architect to insure against its own negligence in order to negate the waiver as to losses caused by the architect’s negligence.

Not a great result for the client. However, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company v. Freeman-White Associates, Inc. is a 1987 decision. Surely there has been some better law made since then…

Waiver of Subrogation in General in Construction Contracts

“Subrogation is the substitution of [one person or entity] to the position of another, an obligee, whose claim he has satisfied…” Thus, in the insurance context, the doctrine of subrogation allows an insurer who has indemnifed its insured to step into the shoes of its insured and sue any at-fault party which may have caused the damages. The right of subrogation may arise by equitable, common law principles, or by virtue of any express assignment in the insuring agreement. The policies underlying subrogation are appealing: 1) it feels “fair” that the ultimate liability for a loss should land on the wrongdoer, not an insured’s insurer; 2) in theory, subrogation should keep insurance premiums down; and 3) parties remain incentivized to avoid mistakes. In addition, fault-based claims in the midst of construction can cause delays and increased hostility during the project. Costly litigation would ensue, the avoidance of which was one of the purposes for which the property insurance was originally obtained. Continue reading “Waiver of Subrogation: A Valid Defense for Architects and Engineers?”

TheProNetBlog_Spring

Spring is in the air, and optimism surrounding the construction industry is at a new high!

We don’t want to kill the buzz, but this is as good a time as any to remember that your design firm isn’t impervious to crime-related loss or damage. Your insurance policy can (and should!) include a few specific coverages to protect you against things like Employee Dishonesty, Burglary, and Computer Fraud.

The following is an excerpt from our Typical Coverages for Design Professionals, and we hope it will educate you and give you some peace of mind:

COMMERCIAL CRIME COVERAGES

Commercial Crime Coverages include several separate insuring agreements. Some or all of these individual coverages may be selected, depending on the individual needs of a design firm:

Employee Dishonesty: This coverage pays for loss sustained by the insured employer up to a specified amount, caused by a dishonest act of an employee or employees covered under the policy. This includes dishonest acts of the embezzlement of money or property, including inventory, owned by the insured.

Forgery or Alteration: This coverage pays for loss sustained by the insured employer for forgery or alteration of checks (including blank checks) issued by the insured. Coverage may be extended to include checks forged or altered by employees as well as others. Continue reading “Commercial Crime Coverages for Architects & Engineers”

PNN_1310So, you’ve scored a new project! This is a shining moment. The road before you vibrates with the potential for creativity and ingenuity. You receive the contract in your email. Double-click. All you have to do is sign on the dotted line. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Insurance Requirements?

Oh boy. You’d better send this one over to your insurance broker for a quick review.

At lunch, you sketch ideas on the back of your napkin, dying to get started. Buzz! Your phone trembles on the table. It’s your broker and, sadly, she didn’t just give you two big thumbs up. Nope. Turns out, the Insurance Requirements include the following line:

Client shall be named as Additional Insured under CG 20 10 (85) or equivalent.

No-can-do. This endorsement is obsolete. But your new client wants it!  And so you’re face-to-face with the eternal and confounding Additional Insured Conundrum.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? You’re not alone. The following excerpt from our October 2013 issue of ProNetwork News may be able to help:

The Issue

Recent court decisions and increasingly onerous client demands are creating substantial insurance related difficulties for design firms. This article will focus on the potentially hazardous and surprising consequences of adding clients and others as additional insureds to the A/E’s general liability insurance (CGL) policy(s).

A recent Illinois Appellate Court Decision illustrates this threat: Patrick Engineering Inc. (Patrick) v. Old Republic General Insurance Co (Old Republic). The basic facts are:

Patrick was retained by Commonwealth Edison (Com Ed) to provide engineering services in connection with relocation of utility poles. While working on the project, Com Ed smashed through an underground sewer in at least four separate locations. Subsequently, the local municipality, Village of Lombard, sued Com Ed alleging that it acted negligently. Continue reading “The Additional Insured Conundrum: A/E Firms Face a New and Potentially Growing Liability Exposure”

PN - Vol. 21, No.2. 2013 - Building Information Modeling (BIM)Embracing the latest technology can set a design firm apart from the crowd, but it can also set you up for a rough road if you’re not adequately prepared beforehand. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is far from “new” at this point, but some wary design professionals have abstained from it anyway, allowing time to tell whether BIM would be a positive thing for the industry, overall. Good news!

“Building Information Modeling (BIM)… [has] not necessarily opened the door to more claims, as several carriers expected. A few [insurance companies] have found BIM projects to be low-risk; some even went as far as giving discounts to design clients that utilize BIM.” — Engineering, Inc., February 2014

a/e ProNet’s latest ProNet Practice Note, authored by Joseph Barra of Robinson & Cole, can take you from here. The following is an excerpt from Building Information Modeling (BIM): Now that you know how to spell BIM, is it right for you and your firm?

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the process of developing a virtual, three-dimensional, information rich model to design, construct, and maintain a building project. BIM is much more than software used to produce a pretty 3D graphic. Because a variety of information can be embedded into the model, BIM can also be used to manage the project’s construction schedule (4D); to track project costs (5D); and, once constructed, facility management (6D).

There are varying levels of BIM adoption and use, from an initial pilot project with one player using BIM tools to a team process with agreed-upon collaborative BIM process goals. In ideal process, all project participants share information.

These times are a changin’…

Because BIM is about process and not just software, it gives designers and constructors a unique opportunity to eliminate the barriers to collaborative thinking. One example is found in the redundancies inherent in the shop-drawing process. In this case, the goal of the BIM process is to abolish the wasteful practice of having to draw the entire project twice. Because BIM facilitates teamwork, many see BIM as an opportunity to reach out across disciplines and reconsider the traditional paradigm. Make no mistake, we still need experienced architects, engineers, contractors, and owners to deliver a successful project. But in today’s BIM-enabled world, the process is becoming more collaborative, which in turn redefines the project team’s risk profile.

To continue reading, download the full PDF version of this newsletter, which outlines Factors to Consider before deciding to use BIM (e.g., Type of Project, Timing, Teammates, Project Delivery Method). And if you have additional questions about BIM and/or professional liability insurance, be sure to contact your local a/e ProNet broker today!

contract

Why should I strike “breach of contract” from the indemnity provision in my agreement?

For one thing, it is redundant as there is already a remedy under the law should you breach your contract. Please note the excerpt in the next question from our Practice Notes Vol. 4 NO. 2, Indemnification: How to Identify Unacceptable Risks and Get Them Out of Your Agreements.

What is the significance of the statement in an agreement: “breach of any term or condition of this Agreement”?

Negligence may be difficult to prove, but breach of contract is not. To establish a breach, all an owner need do is prove that 1) you owed a duty to perform under your agreement, 2)you breached that duty, and 3) damages were sustained as a result. This is your client’s fall back position in the event negligence turns out to be impossible to establish. It is also your invitation to the owner to sue you at your expense. There is great leverage in this, and it flows in a single direction-from you to your client. Your client sues you for breach of contract, and you pay the associated attorneys’ fees and costs. Arguably, this is inconsistent with public policy. Public policy generally demands mutuality as a matter of equity where there is an agreement by one party to pay the attorney’s fees of another regardless of the outcome of a dispute between the two. Attorney’s fees are the only issue here, for if you are found to have breached your contract, there is a remedy for that in the law. As far as you are concerned, it is neither necessary, nor is it appropriate for you to add your indemnity to that remedy. Absent negligence your indemnification for breach of contact may be uninsurable; absent mutuality, it is unfair. Delete this language if you can. If you encounter sustained resistance, you might invoke the public policy argument and propose, as an alternative, to substitute language elsewhere in your agreement calling for the non-prevailing party to any dispute to compensate the prevailing party for costs of defense. There is leverage in this for you, but there is also some risk. Seek the advice of counsel before you pursue this strategy.

Excerpted from the FAQ page on the a/e ProNet website, one of many risk management resources for Architects & Engineers. Have any questions? Contact your local a/e ProNet broker or contact us directly today.

pronetworknews_august2013This issue of ProNetwork News is meant to serve as a basic reference guide to the property insurance coverages typically purchased by design firms. Last month we posted a companion piece, Insurance 101: The Things You Always Wanted to Know About Liability Coverage But Were Afraid to Ask.

We continue our overview of insurance products of interest to design professionals with this review of property coverages that may apply to the needs of your particular practice. As always, we encourage you to ask your broker what insurance is right for you.

BUSINESS PROPERTY INSURANCE

Whether you lease or own your office, you need to insure office equipment, furniture, fixtures, computer equipment, phone systems, fax/copiers, valuable papers and fine arts for fire, theft and water damage. Insuring these valuables for “replacement cost” on an “all-risk form” means that your business is most likely to be reimbursed properly for a covered loss. If you lease furniture and equipment, the lessor will require this coverage and will be designated as a “loss payee.” Landlords of rented property usually require their tenants to maintain property coverage for the rented space to cover improvements and betterments provided to the leaseholder.

Since most design firms are heavily dependent on computer systems, it is important to properly inventory equipment and software.. For example, the cost to reproduce plans and specifications kept on computer files is significant when considering the insured value of valuable papers and records. However, no limit of insurance is a substitute for reliable backup procedures.

Stand-alone IT coverage packages, including security breach, are evolving almost daily. They can cover both first party losses (yours) and third-party losses (those for which you may be liable to others). Ask your broker what products may best apply to your needs.

VALUABLE PAPERS INSURANCE

A/E firms have in their possession valuable papers and documents whose destruction would prove very costly. Maps, plans, specifications and books are some examples. All-risk protection is generally available excluding wear and tear, gradual deterioration and vermin. Certain valuable papers may be insured specifically, or “scheduled.” More commonly, a blanket limit is established to cover all valuable papers. Articles insured on a blanket basis are covered for their replacement cost. Scheduled items are covered on a valued basis even though it is not possible to replace them with like kind and quality. Continue reading “Insurance 102: Property Coverages for Architects & Engineers”