With nearly every project, architects, engineers and other design professionals have to make decisions about construction observation services. Choices about whether and how often to conduct observations and how to document them can greatly impact the risk of a claim or lawsuit.
To better manage the construction observation risks you face, it helps to remember these three best practices:
1. Define the Scope of Your Services
Defining the scope of your services helps set appropriate expectations with the client and limit your exposure to problems that may arise during construction. Many construction observation claims that do arise involve a difference between the scope of services anticipated and those provided.
Clients often have a general understanding of what construction observation services are, but misinterpretations are much more likely if you do not specifically define your scope for these services in each contract.
Typically, construction observation services have a limited scope. Design professionals use visits to the project site at agreed upon intervals to become generally familiar with the progress of the work and its quality and determine whether or not the work being performed generally conforms to the intended design. Such a scope of services is not really meant to include exhaustive inspections or continuous monitoring.
Use your contract to define the scope of your services, including what is included, what is not included and specifically disclaiming control and responsibility over any construction phase activities you will not oversee.
2. Document When Services Are Declined
Thoroughly documenting when a client declines all or part of your construction observation services is another key habit that can help reduce claims and protect you from a lawsuit.
Claims often arise when a client wants to pay for minimal services without understanding the potential consequences for the project. A client may not understand that a decline of services you offer means that you will not be able to verify the progress or quality of work or discover and report every nonconforming defect.
Be sure to document your recommendation for specific services, the reason for recommending them, the client’s decision to go against that recommendation and the potential consequences for the project. If a client initially agrees to your services and then later changes their mind or stops paying for the services, make sure to also document that in writing, emphasizing to the client the potential consequences for the project.
3. Document the Services You Provide
Documenting specifically what services you are providing when you provide construction observation services is another key factor for reducing your risk of a lawsuit.
Claims can arise when an architect or engineer does not document the discovery of easily fixable deficiencies as well as when they do not document that construction appears to be going according to plan.
The risk of failing to document minor deficiencies is that there is no guarantee the contractor will remedy the situation or give the designer an opportunity to note that the deficiency has been corrected.
With the client informed of the issue from the beginning, there is less risk the architect or engineer may be blamed for any resulting delays, subsequent destructive testing or the potential of the completion of an unsafe final product.
Failing to document that you have made a site visit, conducted observations, found that work at the project site appears to be conforming with the plans and communicated this report to the client are also frequently a source of claims, particularly on small projects.
Small projects can lead to big claims if something goes wrong and you do not have proof that you provided construction observation services promised in the contract and informed the client of your findings.
Document all of your construction observations by recording the date and time of the site visit, the area observed and notes on what is observed, including photographs. While the process can be tedious and result in extra time spent explaining the findings to clients, it’s a preferable alternative to a costly and complex lawsuit.
Construction Observation Risk Management for Architects and Engineers
Most construction observation claims can be prevented with the right precautions, but there is always a risk you will one day face a claim. Claims can be brought even when you’ve done everything right. To protect yourself, it’s important to manage your risk by obtaining an appropriate level of professional liability insurance protection.
At Lockton Affinity, we understand the needs of design professionals like you. Architect and Engineer coverage includes complimentary contract reviews, pre-claim assistance and more, plus competitive pricing and best-in-class customer service.
See what our coverage will look like for your business today by visiting LocktonAffinityA-E.com or call (888) 425-7011.