For design professionals, finding the right insurance broker can present a challenge. You need someone with ample experience handling the professional liability needs of architects and engineers, and who offers a wealth of value-added services. Only if your broker has a comprehensive understanding of what you and your firm are all about can he or she be of real use to you. Lacking this knowledge can leave your firm vulnerable in a shifting insurance marketplace. A good specialist broker is committed to investing the necessary time and resources to your account. They find you the best coverage for the best price, and they save you the considerable time it would take for you to do so on your own.

What is professional liability insurance and why is it important?

A professional liability (errors and omissions) insurance policy provides coverage to defend and indemnify a professional firm against claims alleging negligent acts, errors, or omissions in the performance of professional services.

Any project can give rise to a claim. Even if your firm employs an excellent risk management strategy, it is vulnerable to being named in a lawsuit. The cost of that defense can mount fast, even if your firm wasn’t in the wrong. A professional liability policy covers the cost of defense.

In the event that your firm is found negligent, and that the firm’s negligence gave rise to the claim in question, your professional liability policy will cover your firm for the damages you’re

legally obligated to pay, up to the policy limit. (Note: In most cases, defense costs erode the policy limit. Having adequate limits to cover both defense and indemnity is important.)

Why do I need a specialist insurance broker? Shouldn’t I be able to purchase my professional liability policy directly from an insurance company?

For architects and engineers, maintaining an active and adequate professional liability insurance policy is very often a legal requirement. And while a basic professional liability policy is straightforward enough for anyone to acquire, the insurance needs of design professionals are more complex than that.

The insurance industry is full of companies who want your business, but no two professional liability insurance carriers are exactly alike. Among the major differences are:

  • the size of policy limits offered;
  • whether multiyear policies are available;
  • underwriting appetites for types of engineering services;
  • and claims service.

Some companies require a 10-year loss history from design professionals, while others only require a five-year loss run. A specialist broker knows what the markets are doing, who the underwriters are, and how to present your firm in the best possible light. He or she will have understand each insurance company’s application and is quick to assist you in providing requested information. The cost of your insurance depends on this knowledge and attention to detail used on your behalf.

Here it should be noted that insurance companies often reward longevity. If your firm has been insured by a single company for a number of years and doesn’t have an especially adverse claims history, it’s likely that your premiums have been fair and endorsements (e.g., per project limit increases) have been easy to come by when needed. This does not mean that your current insurance company should be the only one to see your renewal application, however. A specialist broker understands the importance of approaching multiple markets periodically, either to reassure you that your policy is in the right hands or to grant you the opportunity to trade up.

Whether the market in a given year is hard or soft, a skilled professional liability insurance broker’s experience will benefit your firm. You need competent advice from a broker with the right perspective, both on your industry and the needs of your firm, as well as on the insurance marketplace as a whole.

This has been an excerpt of the January 2017 issue of ProNetwork News. Download the full free PDF version of Benefit from Selecting the Right Professional Liability Broker here.

About the Author

Audrey Camp is the Web & Social Media Consultant for a/e ProNet. She spent six years with a/e ProNet member IOA Insurance Services in California as a licensed account manager, specializing in the professional liability needs of architects and engineers. Today, Audrey works as a freelance writer living in Oslo, Norway. Her work has appeared in several literary magazines, journals and anthologies, and she is a founding member of the Oslo Writers’ League (OWL). She has also written for English-language Norwegian news sites and magazines. Most recently, Audrey co-authored two books—Startup Guide Oslo (Oct 2016) and Startup Guide Vienna (March 2017)—for a Danish company called Startup Everywhere, a process that inspired her appreciation for social entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. Audrey has managed the a/e ProNet website, blog, social media presence and other publications since 2011.

Copyright Rights and Wrongs

Copyright DefinitionCopyright seems like a rather lofty notion. Few put copyright at the top of their list of must-haves in contract negotiations, and even fewer take the time to actually register their documents for copyright protection. But you do have copyright protections under current law. That copyright can come in handy as a risk management tool as well as leverage in a fee dispute. Unfortunately, many design professionals give away their rights vis-à-vis their contracts without a full appreciation of the implications of their actions.

Copyright statutes have been on our books since the 1700s. The Copyright Act (Title 17 of the US Code) provides useful protection applicable to your practice by including pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, as well as architectural works, as copyrightable materials. Architectural works include drawings, models and the structure itself. “Arrangement of spaces and elements” are protected, but not “individual standard features.” Registering your architectural works creates a public record of the registration and is essential in an infringement action. It takes 30 minutes and $30 to complete. But even if you do not register your works, they are still protected unless you give those rights away by contract.

Copyright in Standard Design Contracts

Standard design industry contracts (e.g., AIA and EJCDC), keep the copyright with the design professional and provide for a limited license to the client/owner for use of the documents. That license is generally limited for use on the specific project only, and does not allow for transfer of that license to third parties. The design industry contracts also include an indemnity provision in the professional’s favor that mitigates risk should those documents be used or modified without proper authority. Most owner generated contracts, on the other hand, demand a transfer of copyright to the owner, and those terms are often agreed to by the professional, presumably because the professional is not fully aware of its rights or the risks involved in giving those rights away. Continue reading “Copyright Rights and Wrongs”

Architecture and engineering firms are still learning how to cope with a growing cybersecurity threat. According to this year’s Global Application and Network Security Report from Radware, nearly half of all companies experienced a cyber ransomware attack in 2016. Vulnerability to loss of personal data, exposure of sensitive or proprietary information, etc., is also on the rise. Tim Corbett of SmartRisk LLC, a longtime affiliate of a/e ProNet, has recently analyzed the report findings. He writes that the gravest irony is that while “Employees are the first line of defense” against cyberattacks, they are also a company’s “greatest cyber security weakness.”

Employees’ personal habits regarding company data and digital interactions open doors for hackers, viruses, and the siphoning of information. If your employees aren’t aware of basic threats and/or best practices regarding cybersecurity, your firm is more likely to lose out. The costs of these attacks can be severe. They are also avoidable. SmartRisk’s post recommends regular and up-to-date cybersecurity trainings for your firm “[t]o obtain a broad understanding, and buy-in from the entire organization.”

Arm yourself with SmartRisk’s Checklist

According to SmartRisk, cybersecurity training should take place annually. Corbett offers a checklist for these trainings. Remember to include “all members of the organization, including senior management… so they are knowledgeable of recent trends, monitoring methods, and controls used to prevent the installation of malicious code on the organization’s computer systems.” He also recommends making cybersecurity training a standard protocol for new hires. It’s probably a good idea, as well, to encourage your IT department to be accessible for even basic questions on cybersecurity. Demystifying the response to the threat will empower your employees to be proactive in protecting the company’s interests.

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, so you can find a/e ProNet’s past posts on related issues here:

Federal Trade Commission Releases How-To Cybersecurity Guide (Oct 2016)

Cyber Security Awareness & Last Week’s DDOS Hack (Oct 2015)

As always, if you have further questions, please contact your a/e ProNet broker.

Some of the most frequently asked questions we hear are triggered by the disparities between the insurance coverage available to design professionals and the demands made for coverage by general contractors and their standard contracts.

 

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This is a nuanced area, and you should call your local a/e ProNet broker if you have specific questions. In the meantime, here are a few quick answers to the biggest FAQs concerning this issue:

Is it wise of General Contractors to require professional subconsultants to sign their usual sub-contract form?

No. Contractors that require the use of the same contract form used for construction sub-contractors may unwittingly void the precise coverage they are seeking from their design professional. Professional Liability (Errors & Omissions, or E&O) policies for design professionals typically exclude warranties and guarantees, which are generally an integral part of construction sub-contracts. If the design firm “agrees” to the warranties and guarantees or any other responsibility excluded by their professional liability policy, the design firm will be assuming the defense costs and payment obligations if an award is granted by the courts.

The General Contractor has requested to be named as an “Additional Insured” on my professional liability policy. Can I accommodate this request?

It is not a good idea to name the contractor as an additional insured in the sub-consultant’s design E&O policy, because an “Insured vs Insured” exclusion exists in virtually all design E&O policies. If the contractor believes he has a cause of action against his subconsultant design firm, this exclusion will eliminate coverage for both the contractor and the design firm.

How can the General Contractor protect themselves?

The General Contractor may purchase Contractor’s Professional Liability insurance. This will protect the General Contractor from vicarious liability claims from third parties and also solves the problem of the “Insured vs Insured” exclusion that would apply if the contractor brings an action against the subconsultant design firm, when named as an additional insured. Another benefit is a separate set of insurance limits. The General Contractor would have their own set of insurance limits that would not be subject to dilution or reduction from other claimants against the design professional’s E&O policy covering their general practice.

Why would the General Contractor need Professional Liability coverage?

Several reasons:

The General Contractor has the same “vicarious liability” for the negligent acts, errors or omissions of their professional subconsultants as they do for the non-professional subcontractors.

The General Contractor cannot rely solely on the hold harmless indemnity clause in the contract document. The hold harmless may not be enforceable in certain jurisdictions because of the language of the indemnity clause.

The subconsultant may not have sufficient insurance or their policy limits may be reduced or exhausted from other claims.

The subconsultant’s policies may be cancelled by the carrier giving notice or for non-payment of premiums. The General Contractor is then left with a false sense of security if they rely on the general liability insurance of the subconsultant, which excludes professional design activities and responsibilities.

Meeting halfway, in this case, really involves helping everyone acquire appropriate coverage. If you are a General Contractor in need of Professional Liability (E&O) insurance, or if you are a design professional who needs someone to explain all this to a General Contractor demanding such ill-advised insurance/contract decisions, please don’t hesitate to call on us.

More answers to Frequently Asked Questions can be found on our FAQ page.

PNN_1604Design professionals are often asked by their clients to sign contracts that include comprehensive—sometimes unreasonable—insurance requirements and indemnification terms.  These are usually drafted with the goal of protecting owners, clients, contractors, or other project participants.  But how does this work when the required coverages aren’t found in the commercial insurance marketplace?

Certificates of insurance (COIs)—which are also often requested in those professional service contracts—provide summaries or verification of current coverage, including policy effective dates, insurers, and certain policy limits.  A certificate gives a snapshot to the requestor (usually known as the certificate holder) for informational purposes.   It’s important to understand that in no way does a certificate endorse, amend, alter, or extend coverage; nor does it act as a contract.  Certificates are often provided using a set of industry standard forms produced by ACORD (formally known as the Association for Cooperative Operations Research and Development), which indicate:

THIS CERTIFICATE IS ISSUED AS A MATTER OF INFORMATION ONLY AND CONFERS NO RIGHTS ON THE CERTIFICATE HOLDER. THIS CERTIFICATE DOES NOT AMEND, EXTEND OR ALTER THE COVERAGE REPORTED BY THE POLICIES DESCRIBED BELOW.

Issuers of COIs generally strive to accurately reflect the insurance policies that are in effect, but those who are relying on the forms need to keep in mind that it’s virtually impossible to summarize an insurance policy of over a hundred pages in a form that contains a few boxes.  Adding to this, those who are issuing insurance certificates often struggle as they try to confirm in a COI that specific and detailed contractual requirements are—or aren’t—being met.

One common challenge is meeting a request that an insurer provide notice of a policy’s cancellation to the insured’s clients.  To do so, the insurer would need to track all such requirements for all insureds for the duration of each contractual requirement—which may even be unspecified.  With this in mind, ACORD made changes in 2010 to clarify that insurers’ notification duties are as defined in the insurance policy, not in the professional services contract.

Generally, courts agree that a certificate of insurance is not a contract.  One fundamental reason is that no consideration—or payment—is given by the certificate holder to the issuer.  However, there is a duty to make accurate representations within the confines of the overall system.  To consider this, we’ll review a few recent cases interpreting the obligations for COIs and their issuers. Continue reading “Certificates of Insurance: Why You Can’t Always Have It Your Way”

The ACEC has announced the winners of its five national student awards, and among them is Lauren Grimley, winner of a/e ProNet’s first annual engineering scholarship.

grimley_acecGrimley will graduate from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan this year and enter the University of Iowa’s master’s program in water resources and environmental engineering in the fall. Grimley’s credentials as a student, her experience, and her enthusiasm for her selected field set her application apart. We’re excited to be a part of her journey toward professionalism and wish her the very best going forward.

Visit our scholarships page to read more about the two annual awards we sponsor every year.

Are Hackers a Threat to My Design Firm?

Hackers make headlines daily with targets ranging from major Swiss banks to Minecraft users to German nuclear power plants. But what are the risks to architects and engineers?

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Professional Liability carrier Victor O. Schinnerer urges design professionals to Take Cyber Liability Exposures Seriously in a recent blog post:

Cyber liability problems that have disrupted firm operations often are based on one of three vectors:

— insiders who are dissatisfied or recognize their ability to tap firm assets and use that access for harm or personal profit;

— past employees who either take digital assets with them or to enact revenge against their former employers corrupt firm systems and information; and

— hackers who know that confidential project data is vulnerable and hold digital information hostage until a ransom is paid.

Hackers Can Wreak Havoc on a Firm

Although internal threats cause many cyber liability breaches, a malicious outsider is one of the greatest fears of professional services firms. A hacker could cause data inaccessibility through alteration or destruction. A firm would lose intellectual property and no longer be able to meet contract objectives and deadlines. Attackers who gain access to a firm’s data can encrypt it using ransom-ware and extort payment to regain access to information. Firms that do not properly preserve digital assets through robust back-up systems often have no alternative but to pay the ransom.

Construction projects today are increasingly dependent on digital technology. The adoption of BIM and the increasing use of digital technologies in designing, constructing, and operating buildings and infrastructure are transforming the way the industry works. The concept of collaborative work through the sharing and use of detailed models and large amounts of digital information requires that parties be aware of vulnerability issues and take appropriate control measures. Improper access controls could lead to an attack severely disrupting progress on a project, causing delays or remedial work that could lead to significant claims from owners, lenders, or other stakeholders. And if confidential information on the structure or systems of projects is accessed by unauthorized parties, the safety of the owners and users of the buildings or infrastructure could be put at risk.

It is possible to insure against these vulnerabilities. Schinnerer’s Cyber Protection Package is one example of such coverage. Here are a few others:

Give your local a/e ProNet broker a call to discuss your options today.

Inquiring Minds and the FMLA

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Complying with the many provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a concern for even those well-versed in the Act. Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals clarified when the FMLA applies, and spelled out an affirmative duty of the employer to inquire and confirm if an employee wants to take FMLA leave if eligible.

What Is the FMLA and How Does It Apply?

The FMLA entitles some employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. It applies to employers that are public agencies and to private employers with 50 or more employees who work at least 20 weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. An employee is eligible for FMLA leave if they:

  • Worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months;
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of their FMLA leave; and
  • Work at a location where at least 50 employees are employed or within 75 miles of that location.

An eligible employee has the right to take 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. In general, the employee can take leave due to their own serious health condition; for the birth of a newborn child; to care for a newly-adopted child; or to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. This right means that if an employer terminates or otherwise retaliates against an employee for taking leave, it can result in a civil lawsuit or administrative proceeding against the employer for back pay, reinstatement, and other damages.

When a state provides greater protections than the federal FMLA standards, an employer must comply with state law as well. For example, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) also covers same-sex domestic partners, and provides more privacy protections. Continue reading “Inquiring Minds and the FMLA”

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Design firms preparing to purchase or renew professional liability insurance ask the same few questions every year.

How will my professional liability premium be calculated? Will my professional liability premium go up? Should I change professional liability insurance companies?

One helpful resource to answer these questions is the 2015 Professional Liability Insurance Survey of Carriers, a report published annually by the ACEC along with a companion analysis in Engineering, Inc. that includes insight from insurance companies and other experts  This year, the title of the article says it all: 2015 was “Smooth Sailing” for the professional liability insurance industry, and that means good things for architects and engineers.

“The ACEC Risk Management Committee worked with the American Institute of Architects, the AIA Trust, and the National Society of Professional Engineers to survey 18 carriers.” With construction spending higher than it’s been in years and expected to rise, the number of insurance companies providing professional liability insurance to architects and engineers is also growing. New markets increase the competition for more established companies, and keep rates stable, which means Eric Moore, President of a/e ProNet and Vice President of Moore Insurance Services, is optimistic.

“Nonrenewal is about the only reason Moore would suggest changing carriers” this year. “If you do see a claim, a carrier you’ve been with a few years is less likely to drop you, he says.”

Also quoted in the article are representatives from several of the top-tier professional liability insurance carriers, like a/e ProNet sponsors Travelers, Beazley, and Victor O. Schinnerer, as well as Tim Corbett of SmartRisk, a performance management consultant for the design and construction industry, who has written for a/e ProNet many times.

You can read a digital version of this article in the January/February 2016 issue of Engineering, Inc.

As always, if you have any questions about this report or the professional liability market, please contact your local a/e ProNet broker today.