Recently, published an article on How to choose an Architect. The author stressed that the hunt for the right architect should include obtaining recommendations from friends and colleagues, calling a potential architect’s references, and studying his or her previous projects to ascertain quality and sustainability.

This process isn’t news to architects. Every job bid opens an architect’s firm and history to scrutiny, and that’s all part of an owner’s due diligence. What architects and engineers might not consider is that this logical due diligence should extend to them in the selection of their own insurance broker(s).

Remember, “Not every attorney can deal with the problems you are likely to find yourself faced with in professional practice; not every doctor can perform heart surgery; not every insurance broker can deliver the professional liability loss prevention and insurance services you need. Knowing this, it would seem to make sense for you to spend a certain amount of time searching for a broker capable of responding effectively to the unique requirements of your firm.”

a/e ProNet has put together a guide to finding the best specialist insurance broker for your design firm. Authored by David Lakamp, the founder of a/e ProNet, this guide addresses the qualities and qualifications you should require of the broker handling something as important as your Professional Liability policy. The following is an excerpt from our ProNet Practice Note titled How to Select a Professional Liability Insurance Broker:

Your professional liability insurance broker can deliver services of great value. This is as it should be, for you are paying for those services. Carefully selected and advantageously used, your broker can be as important to the management of your practice as your accountant or your attorney. Poorly selected and ill-equipped to advise you on the risks of professional practice, your broker may add little more of value to what you do than the cost of a few postage stamps at renewal time. The choice is yours.

There are many people in the insurance business, but finding the one broker best for you can be somewhat problematic. For one thing, your broker can be of real help to you only if he or she has a comprehensive understanding of what it is you are all about. Not all do. For another, the most valuable services your broker can deliver require an investment of time and resources few are prepared to make. Fortunately, there are knowledgeable brokers throughout the country who have made that investment. Your challenge is to find one you can rely on with confidence.

What a Good Broker Can Do For You

Your broker, first and foremost, is your advocate in the professional liability insurance marketplace. A good broker will know what the markets are doing, who the underwriters are, what they are looking for, and how to present your firm in the best possible light. This requires a thoroughgoing knowledge of the applications for insurance and a clear understanding of what the questions really mean, how the information being requested is likely to be interpreted, and how that information can best be communicated to the underwriters. The cost of your insurance will depend on this knowledge and on the skill and attention to detail with which it is utilized on your behalf.

A skilled professional liability insurance broker will be experienced in dealing with the underwriters in both hard and soft insurance markets. Today’s promises and prices may be real, or they may be of fleeting value. To evaluate the differences, you need competent, independent advice from a broker who is capable of a long look down the road ahead. Experienced brokers have been down this road before, and the value of the advice you receive as you seek to sort out the trade-offs between coverage options, company services, and premium dollars depends on that experience.

Other valuable questions answered by this ProNet Practice Note:

  • Why is it important to choose a specialist insurance broker?
  • How will I know a specialist insurance broker when I see one?
  • Where can I get good recommendations for specialist brokers in my area?
  • When I purchase insurance, why shouldn’t price be the bottom line?
  • What is the difference between an independent insurance broker and an insurance agent?
  • What questions should I ask an insurance broker to make certain he or she fits this criteria and will offer the best, specialized service to my architecture or engineering firm?

We invite you to download the full-length PDF version of this ProNet Practice Note here. For additional resources like this one, visit our website. And as always, the easiest way to find a specialist insurance broker for your firm is to get in touch with your local a/e ProNet Broker.

A Professional Liability claim is triggered by a demand for money or services. Once you receive such a demand, it’s easy enough to call your broker and report the claim. But what about reporting a situation that could give rise to a claim?

Say you’re standing on a job site, eyes wide, jaw hanging open, because you see that something isn’t right. You expect that the situation you see before you could (likely, will!) give rise to a claim, but you can’t be certain. Nor can you be sure that the accident/flaw/behavior/error be held against your firm, specifically. And maybe it’s fixable in the meantime. What should you do?

It is in the best interest of your firm to call to your broker anyway. Report the potential claim.

The following is an excerpt from our ProNet Practice Note entitled Reporting Claims and Potential Claims Under Professional Liability Insurance Policies (2010):

Early reporting has many rewards. Let’s look at an actual situation: An architect called his insurance broker to tell her that a one-ton balcony collapsed adjacent to a recreational pool area. The broker immediately notified the insurance company, who put the design firm in contact with a lawyer to start gathering information and to remind the principal of appropriate responses during the crisis. The insurer then hired a forensic engineering firm, all before the architect even pulled into the parking lot!

In addition, the broker offered her client tips on good public-relations skills when facing the media—still during their drive to the site. The architect was prepared with an alternate solution when his client wanted to sweep up and remove the debris, thereby erasing a critical part of the story should a claim be made later.

Reporting a circumstance or claim should begin your access to the power of your insurer, including its expertise, network of consultants and attorneys, and financial resources. You will not only get valuable assistance with the loss or possible loss, but you also often avoid making a bad situation worse.

What if our architect had told his client, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it” before his negligence was established, thereby possibly accepting financial risk without insurance coverage? Every claims adjuster has sad stories like this to tell. This is most common when a design firm receives a subpoena for testimony before being made a party to the action. Feeling they are fulfilling their civic obligation, they freely discuss matters with opposing counsel in what they may later consider an unwise fashion after they are joined in the claim and find that their casual, on-the-record comments harm their own case. Early advice from the claim adjuster can be invaluable.

Even if, later on, this policyholder discontinues their insurance or purchases coverage or options that are less favorable than they currently have, this claim will be covered under the terms and conditions of the policy in place on the date the circumstance was reported to the insurance company.

Even if you are not obligated to report a circumstance according to your policy requirements, you may still report it. By doing so, you will have more options to choose from at your next renewal. You may not ultimately decide to switch to a different insurance company, but you should have the freedom to do so. Unless the matter is reported, you are not free to consider other insurers, lest a claim arise with the new insurer from an unreported circumstance of which you were previously aware.

Visit the a/e ProNet website for additional information on this topic as well as many others. A full library of ProNet Practice Notes are available for free download.

The Cost of Perfection

Nobody’s perfect, yet perfection is always desirable, especially on a design project. Just for a second, let’s imagine that perfect world:

Deadlines met. Costs at or under budget. Environmentally-friendly materials preferred by all parties. Nobody injured, no property damaged. Zero miscommunication.

Sounds, well, perfect, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, there is a downside to trying to attain a perfect project. As it turns out, perfection is unrealistic enough to guarantee disappointment, which will almost inevitably cause rifts between members of the design team. An architect or engineer can better prepare to avoid this scenario by managing the project owner’s expectations early on, refocusing the energy of the team on achieving success rather than perfection.

The following is an excerpt from our ProNet Practice Note entitled The Cost of Perfection: A Design Professional’s Perspective:

Owners that involve themselves in a collaborative and cooperative team approach with the design professional (and construction contractors when identified) are most likely to accomplish successful projects. This team approach involves the honest exchange of ideas, information and problem solving efforts that minimize costs and improve results. However, there is a trend with some owners to define a successful project as one without any risk to the owner. This “risk free” approach is anything but risk free; in fact it may be just the opposite.

Each project is different, but the experienced design professionals on a given project have been through the basic process many times. The architect knows her role as designer. The engineer understands which skill set he brings to the table. This is not necessarily true of the project owner; he or she may come to the same table with some weighty misconceptions. Ironically, these misconceptions may be fueled by the owner’s knowledge that the design professionals have successfully completed so many projects before.

The nature of the design process is such that each project is unique – the first and only one exactly like it. This can be contrasted to a manufactured product that is perfected over time. Consumers buy products expecting perfection or make a trade-off to a lower priced option. Take, for example, a new car, which will be reproduced thousands of times. If you find a defect, you take it back to be corrected under warranty. This is because a manufactured product can be “perfected” through product testing, design improvements and manufacturing process improvements during the life of the production line for that particular model and its predecessors. While the engineering, design and construction community continues to improve its methodologies and learn from the past each project is different with its own unique challenges.

This Practice Note goes on to point out that thinking of the engineering and design process as a product has lead to some common misconceptions:

  • Contract documents are 100% complete, free of any defects and contain everything needed for the construction contractor to do the job.
  • No change orders are to be expected.
  • No contingency budgets are necessary.
  • Any construction change order probably stems from a design fault.
  • Once there is a construction contract, the owner only has to pay for changes in the work that the owner initiates.
  • All extra costs are damages regardless of their origin (e.g. project improvements or changes at the request of the owner should be borne by the owner).
  • Design professionals are responsible to see that the construction contractor builds it right.
  • Professional liability insurance is a no-fault policy.
  • Design documents or construction contract documents are “guaranteed” or come with a “warranty” to be free from defects and fit for the intended use.

To read more and pick up some real-life risk management strategies to aid in this tricky process, please visit our website. The free, full-length PDF version of this Practice Note is available.