Some construction defects occur while homes or commercial buildings are being built, and it is usually clear that the liability for these building errors falls on one or more contractors or subcontractors. Builders are usually held responsible for any defects that occur during the construction phase, especially if the work has not been conducted according to the designer’s specifications.
Contractors aren’t the only ones who have to worry about liability, though. Read on to find out about three situations in which architects or engineers may also face legal liability for negligence or professional malpractice.
Errors and Omissions
Architects and engineers perform a lot of calculations over the course of designing homes, commercial buildings, and public infrastructure. If any of these calculations go wrong, this is considered an error on the part of the engineer or architect. If the same professional fails to include an essential element in the design, it’s considered an omission. Both can leave designers facing serious lawsuits.
The odds of errors and omissions increase as projects increase in complexity or firms takes on more clients. One good way to minimize the risk of errors and omissions is to have someone else check all of the calculations. This takes some extra time, but it’s worth it to avoid potentially costly mistakes.
Even designers who are confident in their work should still have their calculations and designs checked by a colleague. It’s easier than many people think to make a minor mistake that could lead to a potentially serious injury or other damages later down the line.
In the context of home architecture, damages could occur in the form of explosions after an architect omits the location of underground gas lines. In civil engineering, it could be a bridge that has collapsed due to an inability to hold sufficient weight as a result of errors in calculations. When one considers the potential consequences of errors and omissions, it’s easy to see that taking the time to have calculations and designs checked is worth the time.
Even if they have their work checked by colleagues, architects and designers should also take out professional liability insurance to pay for legal expenses in the event that an error or omission occurs. Contact Scotti Insurance Agency to learn about policies and pricing.
Architect or Engineering Malpractice or Negligence
Professional malpractice or negligence suits often occur as a result of communication issues. If architects or engineers ignore a client’s questions or complaints, they should always be prepared for a lawsuit. Clients who don’t understand why their projects have encountered delays or gone over-budget and do not receive a prompt explanation from their designers are much more likely to take legal action, so it’s always best to communicate clearly about any issues that occur during the design process.
Both negligence and malpractice claim often revolve around a failure to meet professional standards of care. For engineers and architects, that means not just avoiding personal injuries and property damage, but also proper oversight, inspection, and documentation. Other common malpractice claims include breaches of contract, missed deadlines, and budget overruns. What all these issues have in common is that they can lead to financial losses for clients.
Don’t wait until something goes wrong to open up lines of communication with the client. Engineers and architects should ensure that the client has clear expectations from the beginning by creating a detailed contract that includes a limitation of liability clause. Most architects and engineers enlist the help of attorneys in drafting contracts to ensure that they will meet legal standards.
If an architect or engineer expects to encounter any problems, he or she should communicate them to the client immediately. Clients like to be kept in the loop. Offer information not just about what went wrong and what impact it will have on the project’s timeframe or budget, but also what is being done to address them.
Make sure to document all of these communications, including issues, brought up by the client, and what attempts were made to resolve them. This shows that the firm was responsive to the client’s needs and makes it more difficult to file a negligence suit.
Dissatisfied clients are more likely to sue engineers and architects. Even if they wind up being in-the-wrong, legally speaking, it can still cost firms time and money to deal with hiring lawyers and going to court, so all architects and engineers should take steps to ensure client satisfaction.
Drawing up clear contracts, setting expectations, and communicating progress or hurdles to progress clearly throughout the design process is just the beginning when it comes to ensuring client satisfaction. It’s also important to incorporate a review process and ensure that each client receives the time and attention he or she expects. That means keeping workloads relatively low and hiring extra help as needed to ensure timely project completion and facilitate the review process.
If an individual designer or a firm must hire outside consultants to help with reviews or managing clients, it’s important that these independent contractors be carefully vetted and adequately insured. Ask them for proof of professional and general liability insurance and make sure to hire a professional with plenty of experience in the field. There’s nothing worse than hiring an outside consultant in an effort to avoid errors, omissions, negligence, and client dissatisfaction, only to find that the independent contractor presents even more of a liability risk.
The Bottom Line
Architects and designers have many tools at their disposal when it comes to risk mitigation and reduction, but there’s no way to eliminate the possibility of a lawsuit entirely. That’s why all firms need to carry professional liability insurance. It will cover the legal fees and financial repercussions of both legitimate suits and dissatisfied clients’ complaints, which means even if the architect or engineer really was in the wrong, the firm’s financial assets will be protected.
It’s not worth the risk of operating without insurance, so get in touch with an agent to discuss options as soon as possible.