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.

For the last few sunny days, a/e ProNet members from across the country have gathered in Scottsdale, Arizona for our annual Spring Meeting (March 1-3). a/e ProNet brokers are independent. Technically, we operate as competitors. Membership is by invitation only. We come together voluntarily as recognized leaders in our industry, meeting the insurance needs of architects and engineers. Our combined premium volume, experience, and national reach make our meetings an attractive target for insurance companies, premium finance companies, and other professionals. With our two annual meetings, we keep our fingers on the pulse of the insurance industry and advocate for our clients.

The Spring Meeting

The purpose of our Spring meeting has changed over the last three decades. Invited representatives from the companies and industries mentioned above present to the group on educational topics. This year, attorney David Ericksen of Severson & Werson in San Francisco also organized a series of five panel discussions:

  • Non-Traditional Project Delivery Methods
  • Cyber Communication Conundrums
  • The Prime/Sub Team: Roles, Responsibilities & Risks
  • Contract and Claims Connections
  • Material Transparency & Building Green

Ericksen staffed these panels with underwriters, claims adjusters, etc. from companies like Victor O. Schinnerer, AXIS, Hanover, RLI, Beazley, and several other a/e ProNet sponsors. The panel environment increases the awareness of each company regarding their competitors’ products and services. As well, it gives our members a quick, comprehensive understanding of the market’s overall perspective on these issues. Continue reading “a/e ProNet Holds Annual Spring Meeting in Arizona”

Chicago - a/e ProNet Fall Meeting Location
a/e ProNet meets in Chicago each autumn

This week, a/e ProNet’s membership will gather in Chicago for the annual fall meeting (September 28-30, 2016). It’s an opportunity for the members to exchange insights about the climate of the design industry, broadening each broker’s individual knowledge base.

Established in 1988, a/e ProNet represents a combined annual professional liability premium volume exceeding $300 million. For this reason, representatives from the top tier professional liability insurance providers are eager to present to the group.

What Happens at the Meeting?

A dozen insurance companies are scheduled to present this fall, including: Beazley, Victor O. Schinnerer, Liberty, Travelers and Arch. These presentations update the membership on regional and national insurance trends. Hearing about real life claims scenarios, legal precedents and new policy/endorsement offerings equips our members to do their jobs well. The underwriters are eager for feedback on their programs and changes. a/e ProNet’s members actively advocate for their own clients during this portion of the meeting.

Members will also attend a reception one evening at the Driehaus Museum, just off Chicago’s Miracle Mile. This exquisitely restored 19th century mansion is a must-visit for lovers of Gilded Age architecture and art. Representatives from major design industry organizations, like the AIA and NSPE, are also invited to attend.

To close the conference, Douglas J. Palandech, Esq. of Chicago law firm Foran Glennon will present on the Fiduciary Liability Exposure of Design Professionals. These presentations often turn into articles for one of ProNet’s publications. Don’t miss out! Follow us on Twitter and/or LinkedIn for updates.

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.

smoothsailing_engineeringinc

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.

drone

They offer a bird’s eye view of construction sites. They provide breathtaking photographic opportunities for architects looking to showcase their work. And they’re fun to fly. However, while they may be intriguing tools for architects and engineers, drones open up the design firms that use them to many possibly unanticipated risks. These days, obtaining a drone is as simple as stopping at your local WalMart, but all drones are not created equal, nor are all drone pilots equally skilled and certified.

Victor O. Schinnerer’s Risk Management Blog recently offered an overview of this issue. Should your design firm use a drone in your administration of contracted services? Read on:

“Professional service firms have to be aware that the use of drones is not a simple transition in the process of observing the work on a project site. As with web cameras, drone cameras often produce far more images than are used in the evaluation of a project. If not properly denoted in a contract, the scope of the firm’s services could include the use of all the available images as part of the firm’s duty to observe and evaluate the project as part of construction contract administration duties.

“Additionally, while licensed drone operators are undoubtedly careful about having general liability insurance that protects others from their negligence in aerial activities, and follow the FAA’s rules and guidelines, many firms using drone photography are doing so as amateurs. Turning hobby activities into commercial uses is likely to be unlawful, dangerous, and uninsured.”

Continue reading Drone use can put firms at risk beyond their knowledge by Frank Musica

ConstructionTradeContractors

The appropriate classification of employees is a frequent source of confusion for design firms, usually coming up around the renewal of a firm’s Workers’ Compensation policy. It is an issue ripe with risk on an Employment Practices level. Recent court rulings in Arizona and Utah have resulted in construction firms paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages, damages, and penalties.

As explained on the Schinnerer Risk Management Blog:

In an age of rising benefit costs and other constraints on the operations of professional service firms, some firms are turning to a range of tactics to reclassify workers to take them off the formal payroll and, therefore, lower their costs and administrative burdens. However, doing so may subject the employer to state and federal employment law fines and penalties.

All this is happening against the backdrop of a broader shifting of risk from employers to workers, who are shouldering an increasing share of responsibility for everything from health insurance premiums to retirement income to job security. While the future might present a model where everyone is truly an independent contractor and neither those actually providing services nor those using the services have any continuing or controlling interest in each other, such a situation does not currently exist and any firm that thinks it can avoid employment responsibilities, tax obligations, or employment practices liability needs to carefully consider alternatives to hiring workers.

Regulators and courts have increased their scrutiny of the relationship between business entities and independent contractors. Alleged misclassification of workers has been one of the primary battlegrounds of this shift, leading to high-profile lawsuits.

For decades, some professional service firms have shifted work from employees to independent contractors to cut their overhead and labor costs and, at times, to qualify for special government procurement assistance. Often, this has been accomplished by relabeling workers and slightly altering the conditions of their work. And some professional service firms have simply ignored regulatory and tax guidance and “informally” used the services of professionals and clerical workers as “consultants” or “leased personnel” or “temps.”

Now, however, businesses—including design firms and construction contractors—are turning to other kinds of employment relationships, such as setting up workers as owners of limited liability companies (LLCs) in an attempt to shield the businesses from tax and labor statutes. In response, some state and federal agencies are aggressively clamping down on such arrangements, passing local legislation, filing briefs in workers’ own lawsuits, and closely tracking the spread of what they see as questionable employment models.

Visit the Schinnerer Risk Management Blog to continue reading.

If you have questions about the appropriate classification of your employees prior to your next workers’ compensation renewal, contact your local a/e ProNet broker. We’re happy to help!

Every spring, our members gather to network with one another, as well as to meet with representatives from the top-tier professional liability insurance providers. While our fall meeting is always held in Chicago, our spring meeting changes locations each year. For 2015, the choice was clear: trendy Austin, Texas!

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Above: Our crew enjoys the southern cuisine and atmosphere at Threadgill’s

The three-day meeting wraps up today, and our members will scatter back to their respective states, ready to assist their clients, newly equipped with the latest industry intelligence.

Are you a design professional with an insurance-related question? Get in touch with your local a/e ProNet broker today!

PNN_1407The construction phase is a dynamic time of a project and a design professional’s involvement is significant from a risk management perspective since it allows the design professional the opportunity to provide input during the construction of the project.  Since no designs are perfect (and, moreover, are not expected to be perfect to still meet the standard of professional skill and care), all designs require some level of interpretation that is best done by the design professional who created them.  During construction, the design professional can visit the jobsite to determine if construction is proceeding in general accordance with the plans and specifications and clarify the design intent when necessary.  This article addresses issues design professionals should consider if they provide services during this phase.

Do you have the resources?

The firm must have sufficient staff to devote to this important phase of the project.  The services during this phase require experienced professionals who know how to handle themselves on the jobsite and how to successfully complete tasks in the office.  If junior professionals perform construction phase services, the firm must ensure senior professionals are available to (and actually do) mentor the junior staff.  A successful mentoring program requires regular and meaningful communication between junior and senior staff who need to be proactive to nurture the mentoring relationship.  Mentoring is a two-way street:  it will not be effective if busy senior professionals do not devote time to advance junior professionals’ development and junior staff must take the initiative to seek out senior staff for guidance.

What does your contract say?

Industry standard documents have relatively balanced language regarding the construction phase.  However, design professionals are often faced with a client-

proposed document that may not include appropriate language for the design professional’s involvement in the construction phase. Continue reading “Construction Phase Services: Considerations for a Successful Outcome”