Using a real-life claims scenario from “a structural engineer and senior partner in a small A/E firm that specialized in multi-family and commercial condominium projects”, William F. Dexter offers his view on the Top 3 Liabilities Facing Design Professionals in today’s increasingly litigious marketplace:
“Long after the construction documents have been published and permits issued, the architect or engineer flies into the Bermuda Triangle of construction phase services, which include review of shop drawings, payment certification and construction observation. Let’s take a look at establishing solid guidelines to reduce the risks of these frequent situations by transferring liability back to the client and others who are always quite eager to let the design professional be responsible.”
At its most basic level, risk management for design firms includes selecting and signing sound contracts. a/e ProNet’s Risk Management & Contract Guide for Design Professionals (2005) can assist with the specifics of this process.
An excerpt from Chapter 7, Some Do’s and Don’ts of Contract Language:
7.2 Words to Avoid
Certain words create the impression that the design firm has a greater duty or responsibility than required by the generally accepted standard of care and scope of services stated elsewhere in the contract. Some words that risk managers often advise the design firm to avoid using in their contracts to the greatest extent possible include the following:
“supervise contractor’s work”
“control contractor’s work”
“direct contractor’s work”
“guarantee or warrant either your services or the contractor’s work”
“certify that contractor’s work meets the plans and specifications”
“inspect contractor’s work to assure it meets the plans and specifications”
This risk management guide was previously out of print, but has since been re-released in electronic format. The book includes three updated optional AIA-approved continuing education courses! Visit the a/e ProNet Web Store to purchase and download your copy today! Also available is our most recent guide, Risk Management for Design Professionals in a World of Change (2009). If you have any questions about these resources, find your local a/e ProNet broker or Contact Us.
Now that we have grabbed your undivided attention, the purpose of this article is to alert Design Professionals to an alarming trend. This trend involves the inclusion of contract provisions in agreements prepared by Owners/Developers and their attorneys that force a Design Professional to work for free in the event that the Owner/Developer unilaterally determines that there is a “dispute.”
It goes without saying that every contract, especially in the design field, must be read thoroughly before it is signed, or the signer will be stuck with the ramifications. Generally speaking, the clauses in question here state that in the event of any dispute between the Owner/Developer and Design Professional, the Owner/Developer may withhold payment until the dispute is resolved, but the Design Professional must continue to perform services. This upsets the historical balance of power between the Owner/Developer and the Design Professional and creates a situation where the Design Professional may very well end up working for free or else be faced with being sued if they stop work or suspend services. Continue reading “How to Get a Design Professional to Work For Free!”
The March 2013 issue of ProNetwork Newsis the second installment of a two-part article; the author, Tim Corbett of SmartRiskexplains the origins and principles of project coverage and introduces the reader to two of the four main types of Project Insurance. For a recap of the first part, including details about types 1 (Project Professional Liability Insurance) and 2 (IPD Project Specific Insurance), download the full March issue, or, better yet,download the February 2013 newsletter here.
Now, let’s examine the remaining three types of project coverage.
3. Project Specific Insurance Limits
Sometimes, contracts demand that design professionals carry a higher limit than they usually do. This can occur on any kind of project, but is more common on larger, higher risk projects, and more recently, on public ones. One of the more common strategies for obtaining increased limits for a project is through a Project Specific Insurance Limit. This is provided by endorsement through your current practice policy insurance carrier.
Benefits and typical features of Project Specific Insurance Limits:
Provides a higher limit for the firm, for a specific project only.
Can be more cost effective than raising the limits on the entire practice policy.
Makes the cost of the project-specific limit a reimbursable expense.
Cautionary Points and Tactics:
Having a project specific increased limit may not always be the best strategy, and it may not even be available from your practice policy carrier. From an insurance company’s perspective, comparing construction costs to policy limits is part of the underwriting process. Construction value and requested limits may not be in line with the insurer’s potential exposure: those higher limits requested could place a target on the design firm’s back. The insurer doesn’t want to provide the higher limits that could be used as a cost recovery strategy.
Ensure that requested limits are in line with exposures and construction costs. For example, is it necessary to require a $5 million limit of professional liability insurance from a firm performing services on a $20 million project?
Contact the contract administrator, and state that your firm normally carries a lower professional liability limit than requested, and that it is consistent with industry practice. Inquire if your current limit will be acceptable.
* Include language similar to the following in your contract:
“The expense of any additional insurance coverage or limits requested by the Owner in excess of that normally carried by the firm shall be a reimbursable expense paid by the Owner.”
About the Author: Timothy (Tim) Corbett is Founder and President of SmartRisk, a Pasadena, CA based consultancy with over 25 years of experience providing risk management and performance management solutions to Design and Building Professionals. Mr. Corbett holds a BS Degree in Security & Risk Management, MS Degree in Management; a degree in Environmental studies as well as concentrated studies in Architecture Design and is LEED accredited. For more information on this or other topics, visit the SmartRisk website or email Tim at email@example.com.
I shouldn’t need to buy insurance! I’ve never had a claim.
This is a common refrain from architects and engineers purchasing professional liability insurance for the first time. We hear you. There are lots of design professionals who feel this way. That’s why it’s important to recognize that insurance isn’t about punishing you for past claims; it’s about protecting you from future claims. Contractual insurance requirements aren’t merely expensive obstacles to bidding for a job; they’re supposed to protect the individual parties from the far more expensive burden of an uninsured professional liability claim. And, like it or not, industries like Architecture and Engineering are rife with potential claims.
Oh yeah? Like what?
Don’t just take our word for it. Check out this library of War Stories and Claims Scenarios from Architects, Engineers, Surveyors & Consultants, an excellent resource offered by Victor O. Schinnerer, one of the leading Professional Liability insurance companies. These are real life claims stories. Here you can read through scenarios which happened to other firms, often in spite of their best efforts to avoid such things! While the names have been changed, details are included. In each case, you’ll find out what the mistake was. How it was made. How much it ultimately cost. How it could have been avoided.
A couple of examples from the War Stories library:
ABC Engineers provided design services for a residential project. The owner obtained a construction loan from a bank for $2.7 million; believing he could obtain additional funds from the bank if needed. As construction progressed, they expended the $2.7 million budget before the project was complete. The bank believed $2.7 million was adequate to complete the project and denied the owner’s request for an additional $1.3 million. The owner could not obtain additional funds and the contractors stopped working, leaving the project incomplete. Read more at Schinnerer’s website…
Gerard Coins Architecture, a sole proprietor, was retained by a housing authority to provide architectural design for Blanket Apartments, a low income housing development. Gerard Coins Architecture also provided mechanical design, which was permitted by state law. The architect’s design called for standard, 30 gallon water heaters but the owner wanted electric, tankless water heaters instead. The architect checked with a supplier and based on verbal information, sized the water heaters for the apartment units.
After the apartments were built, it was discovered that the water heaters did not supply enough hot water. The architect contacted the water heater manufacturer who told him the water heaters were intended to be used at a source, such as a sink or bathtub—not to heat the water for an entire apartment. Read more at Schinnerer’s website…
Homer Watkins Engineering, a civil engineering firm, was retained to provide a limited inspection and design report for a historic building. Several years later, they provided an inspection report for the sale of the same building.
A painting contractor employee, who was working on the historic building, fell three stories sustaining serious injuries after the railing collapsed on a balcony he leaned against. The painting contractor employee filed suit claiming he was permanently, partially disabled and disfigured. After filing suit against a number of parties, Homer Watkins Engineering’s inspection report was found during discovery and the suit was amended to add them.
The painting contractor employee contended that while Homer Watkins Engineering’s inspection report put the new owner on notice that the railing was too low and posed a safety hazard, it did not go far enough in warning the owner that it should be fixed immediately. While it was felt the height of the railing had nothing to do with the fall, the defense counsel felt the inspection report should have been more detailed as it was dealing with a very old brick and wood building that may have had weaknesses requiring more investigation. Read more at Schinnerer’s website…
Protect yourself and your firm from situations like these by purchasing a Professional Liability policy tailored to the specific needs of design professionals. Our members are specialists in this field, so find and contact your local a/e ProNet broker today.
Water bears. Undersea snails with teeth harder than steel. Shrimp that clobber their prey with “hammer-like clubs that accelerate at speeds exceeding that of a .22 caliber bullet”. Do I have your attention?
These are just a few of the marine animals which engineering professor David Kisailus and his students will bring to the Riverside Metropolitan Museum this weekend. Why? To talk about how these strange, exotic, and even bizarre organisms can inspire human engineering.
Nine student groups will present on Saturday. Here are just a couple of our favorite abstracts:
Water bears go where no man has gone before
Students: Steven Herrera, Ashley Carrillo, Irma Gonzalez and Tayler Halverson
Abstract: Water bears possess a talent for survival. They can live in the vacuum of space, resist the pressure of deepest ocean trench six times over, and bear temperatures from one degree above absolute zero to 300°F. Researchers at UC Riverside unravel the secrets of this microscopic lumberer.
Using snails with tough glowing shells for deep space expeditions
Students: Jessica Hernandez, Leslie Martinez, Jessica Richardson and Chris Salinas.
Abstract: Mollusks have evolved a wide range of calcified shells to survive in a variety of habitats. Certain mollusks (gastropods) have a shell with an architecture that makes it tough. Here, we study a very unique gastropod, which is tough and also has evolved to allow green light to penetrate through its thick shell. Investigation of the structure of this shell could lead to development of fracture resistant windows that control intensity and wavelength of light, which would be used for growing plants for food on deep space missions.
The February 2013 issue of ProNetwork News is the first installment of a two-part article; the author, Tim Corbett of SmartRisk explains the origins and principles of project coverage and introduces the reader to two of the four main types of Project Insurance.
Project insurance for design professionals was initially established to provide higher, dedicated limits for larger and more complex projects. The other main driving force behind the development of project coverage was to provide owners the security of having project specific limits both during and after the project was complete. Project insurance has evolved and continues to change based on market needs and conditions, as well as insurance company underwriting standards and “appetite,” or the desire to write certain kinds of risks.
More recently, the collaborative project delivery method sometimes referred to as the integrated delivery (ID) or integrated project delivery (IPD) process has impacted project insurance. In IPD, design professionals are no longer the sole authors of the project design: greater contributions are provided by other entities, including the general contractor and the major trade subcontractors. A few select insurance companies have begun to offer project specific policies tailored to the methods and exposures of IPD.
The key to selecting the correct coverage is theoretically simple: match the benefits of the insurance with the entity or entities requiring the protection. Will one option meet that goal? That’s a very good question: you may need a combination of alternatives to accomplish your insurance and risk management objectives. You should also be aware that even obtaining project insurance has been a challenge in the past, and continues to be so today. Continue reading “Project Insurance: Benefits and Cautions – Part 1 of 2”
“On April 24, 2013 Governor Scott signed Senate Bill 286 into law creating section 558.0035, Florida Statutes. This new law grants individual design professionals employed by a business entity or an agent of the entity immunity from liability for economic damages resulting from negligence occurring within the course and scope of a professional services contract under the following conditions: (a) the contract is made between the business entity and a claimant or another entity for the provision of services to the claimant; (b) the contract does not name an individual employee or agent as a party to the contract; (c) the contract prominently states that an individual employee or agent may not be held individually liable for negligence; (d) the business entity maintains any professional liability insurance required under the contract; and (e) any damages are solely economic in nature and do not extend to persons or property not subject to the contract. The law takes effect on July 1, 2013 and does not state that it is retroactive…
This new law erodes Florida’s common law which has allowed professional negligence claims against an individual design professional based on the professional’s violation of her duty of care to those who may be foreseeably injured. Florida’s common-law imposes a duty of care on all individual professionals that exceeds the duty of care of the general public. Professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, and design professionals, have always been held to a higher standard of care and associated individual liability for professional negligence. This new law will afford design professionals protections that other professionals do not enjoy.”
“I think there’s optimism—a very guarded optimism, given where we’ve been over the past four or five years,” says Scott Sarver, principal at Chicago-based SMDP LLC, which hopes to latch on to the better economy here, boosting its billings from domestic projects to 50 percent this year from 25 percent in 2012.
Among industry giants, San Francisco-based Gensler plans to add 50 professionals here through next year, to 273, says Nila Leiserowitz, a managing director in the Chicago office.
The pool of new architects is rising, too. Architecture schools awarded 10,252 degrees in the 2011-12 academic year, up 13 percent from 9,073 degrees in 2008-09, according to the National Architectural Accrediting Board.
Things a looking up. And if the “industry giants” are hiring to meet the increase in project opportunities, it’s also probable that seasoned professionals will take this chance to open their own shops. We hope so! Continue reading “A Good Time to be An Architect”