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.



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.


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

Tired of reading article after newsletter after white paper after blog post on risk management? (We hope not! But just in case…) Here’s another option:


Longtime a/e ProNet affiliate Kent Holland of ConstructionRisk, LLC has translated his impressive catalog of resources into a series of short videos available on the YouTube Channel.

“If you’re involved in the construction project, whether as a contractor, a designer, or a project owner, you will get real benefit from the practical ideas, suggestions, and law presented in these videos.”

A few of the playlists available now:

J. Kent Holland is a construction lawyer located in Tysons Corner, Virginia, representing design professionals, contractors, and project owners.

Don’t forget the popcorn!


Incredibly, even the global economic crisis hasn’t hardened the Professional Liability Insurance market for Architects and Engineers. Today, there are more insurance companies offering A&E policies than ever. And, thanks to the increasing insurance savvy of Design Professionals (particularly those utilizing the services of specialist brokers), new Professional Liability insurers are offering more in the way of risk management and pre-claims assistance, too.

You’ll find all this information and more outlined in the The Hard Market That Never Came, an analysis of the 2013 Professional Liability Insurance Survey of Carriers, in the February 2014 issue of Engineering, Inc. Continue reading “Engineering Inc. – 2013 Professional Liability Insurance Survey of Carriers”

why do i need an insurance brokerAt our fall meeting last month, a panelist asked an important question:

Why is an insurance broker necessary for design professionals? Shouldn’t architects and engineers be able to access insurance companies and purchase Professional Liability policies directly?

Members of a/e ProNet are professional, independent brokers who serve the insurance needs of design professionals. Membership in our association is by invitation only, and members must be experienced and have a minimum number of design professional clients, as well as a minimum amount of premium volume. Our members must also provide their clients with services beyond the sale of a professional liability policy.

In addition to knowing the professional liability marketplace, they negotiate the best product at the best price for their clients. That negotiation happens every year at renewal time, and because our members are independent—not obligated to any one insurance company—they are in the best position to compare and contrast policies. Often, the time and expertise this process requires is underestimated by A/E clients. With a specialist broker, the A/E can rest assured that they have an advocate annually, both in relation to their bottom line and their exposure as a professional in a demanding and risky environment.

Most importantly, though, that advocacy doesn’t end when the renewal has been processed. The rest of the year, our members’ clients can count on their specialist brokers to provide services such as contract review, accredited continuing education, and other risk management services. Continue reading “Why should Architects & Engineers use a specialist Insurance Broker?”

Photo via Victor O. Schinnerer's War Stories: Budget Buster
Photo via Victor O. Schinnerer’s War Stories: Budget Buster

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:

Budget Buster

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…

Due Diligence is Due

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…

Risky Inspection

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.

Competition among design professionals can be fierce, so it is critical to be as prepared as possible when trying to win new projects, especially those that are put out for bid.  Just as you have project quality control procedures to review a design, you also should have a similar process for responding to an RFP (Request for Proposal) to assess the appropriateness of the project for your firm, to minimize risk and to insure profitability.

When first considering whether to bid on a project, ask these questions:

  • Does our firm have experience with the project type?
  • Is our staff capable of handling a project of this size and scope?
  • Do we have confidence in our design team, including sub-consultants?
  • Can we turn in a successful project and make a profit?

Once you decide to respond to the RFP, you will take many steps to ensure your firm has a good chance at being awarded the project. You will choose a project manager and team that have the most experience with the project type. You’ll take great care in selecting your sub-consultants. You’ll follow your customary quality control procedures and review every aspect of the design phase; the costs of construction, the construction schedule and most importantly, your fees.

So, what could possibly go wrong when responding to an RFP? The answer may lie within the RFP itself.

Project Owners and Project Expectations

When you assemble your project team, you need to call upon the staff members who are best suited to understand the project and the terms spelled out in the RFP.  Your team should be asking the following questions.  Who is the project owner? Is it a government entity? A school district? Is the project publicly funded? Is the project owner a developer? If it is an LLC, who are the parties that comprise it?  Understanding who the project owner is as well as the expectations set forth in the RFP is as important as delivering the winning bid. Continue reading “Responding to an RFP: Risk Management Tools to Guide the Bidding Process”

ProNet Client Project Profile

Who else is sick of hearing about the world’s crippling recession? The last couple of years have been especially tough on the construction industry, as well as on the various industries surrounding it. But design professionals are eager to see the light at the end of this thoroughly designed, planned, surveyed, engineered, and constructed tunnel.

So here’s some light! a/e ProNet client Chaudhary & Associates, a California civil engineering firm that’s determined to grow through and out of this tough time, received a glowing mention in the North Bay Business Journal last week. The following is an excerpt from the NBBJ article:

Napa-based civil engineering, surveying and construction inspection services firm Chaudhary & Associates ( is bouncing back from the huge slowdown in private construction projects in the past few years, thanks to big public works projects rolling forward, according to President Arvin Chaudhary.

The firm currently employs 25, up from about 15 a year and a half ago and 49 at the peak of construction activity. In May, the firm moved to 211 Gateway Dr. W., in a same-sized office — 7,200 square feet — for about half the rent.

Targets for more business are a contract in Merced County that could call for four or five more employees and pieces of the $1.5 billion first and followup contracts for the planned California high-speed train project. Design-bid contractor proposals are due this fall for work next year. The company has been involved in major public works projects such as the Bay Bridge retrofit.

Yet with the state government fiscal crisis, Department of Transportation contracts for construction inspection and other services increasingly are less fruitful than anticipated, Mr. Chaudhary said. Overstaffing at Caltrans is resulting in retraining efforts and less of a need for consultants to fill roles on projects, as staff designers have been moving into field inspections, a role firms such as Chaudhary would handle.

The worry in civil engineering is that this move of Caltrans designers into the field will lead to a dearth of projects moving to construction in a few years, Mr. Chaudhary said. Continue reading “Some Civil Engineering Optimism in Napa, CA”

The most common refrain I hear when talking to clients about Contract Review and Administration is: “I only sign a standard contract.”

Most clients feel there is no reason for contracts to be reviewed prior to signing, because they only sign a standard contract. Unfortunately, the only standard contract I ever see is one in which an owner or client uses and wants their consultants and contractors to sign. Ironically, one of the few things that makes any contract a “standard contract”…is the omni-present and onerous broad hold harmless/indemnity and defense clause.

Contract Review and Administration is probably one of the most important aspects of a prudent risk management and loss prevention program. A contract that any Contractor or Consultant signs should identify their rights and responsibilities to the owner and third parties. All of this should be determined at the “request-for-proposal” stage. If done here…it allows the Contractor or Consultant to identify, evaluate and treat the risks in the Owner or Client standard contract. Please remember that no one is putting a gun to the Contractor’s or Consultant’s head when he or she signs the contract; so it’s absolutely essential that the Contractor or Consultant knows what he is signing and what his rights and responsibilities are when negotiating for future work.

The prudent Contractor or Consultant should discuss all contracts with their counsel and agent before signing. Some general practice tips to consider when reviewing contracts are:

  • Scope of services: Think about whether the contract is exactly what you thought is was going to be in terms of encompassing more or less services, added responsibilities or services outside your area of expertise. It is also wise to describe things you are not doing to reduce the potential for misunderstandings.
  • Change orders: Find out if the Owner is allowed to change the scope of work once under way, and, if so, under what conditions. For instance, look at what input or options you have and what time frame you have to consider this.
  • Warranties and Guarantees and Performance Standards: First, you have to know if there are any. Try not to assume any and don’t agree to unreasonable ones…if you must assume any! Don’t forget that all professional liability policies exclude the assumption of liability policies which turns out to be a warranty or guarantee or performance guarantees.
  • Compliance with all laws, regulations, etc.: These responsibilities can be difficult to live up to since no one knows what all the laws, regulations, ordinances, rules, etc. are, much less how to comply with all of them. Continue reading “Is there such a thing as a Standard Contract?”