In the architecture industry, it’s becoming more and more common for subcontractors and contractors of a major project to get a contract by proposing a partially designed scope of work. With an agreed-upon price attached, the contractors can see delegated design be born out of the extent of undersigned detail. This is where things can get messy.
Delegated design changes the allocation of risk, making the subcontractor the designer and ultimately casting a new level of importance on understanding liabilities. Those involved in a project can prepare by investing in architect professional liability insurance along with understanding the risks attached to delegated design. Here’s how architecture firms can avoid possible issues.
As noted above, delegated design happens when a general contractor takes on the role of an aspect of design in construction. While this shouldn’t be confused with how a contractor does his or her own work, as long as a contractor meets the requirements laid out in the plans of a contract.
When design responsibility is transferred–which is a standard industry practice–the companies performing the work usually engineer elements using systems and equipment that they’ve developed themselves and perfected over the years.
In recent year, delegation of design for even more parts of a project has become more common. From framing to walls, multiple areas of a project are seeing more hands-on transfer of delegation. But when contractors begin to take on more design-related tasks there is more possibility of risk associated with it.
A big first step for architecture firms is to protect themselves, like with appropriate insurance policies noted above. Another way to add some protection is to make sure licensed professionals do the design work, which, in most cases, a contractor’s insurance wouldn’t cover. This is due to the fact that contractors typically carry a general liability policy that does not include professional insurance for design and engineering services.
Moreover, many state and local regulations require the entity in charge of the design duties to be licensed to do that specific kind of work. Thinking of giving up design duties to a contractor who’s unprotected and whose design work you can’t really validate? That’s probably not the best idea.
Make sure to have thorough discussions beforehand with the design team about how the delegation process will unfold. Be sure to consult the construction contract by an attorney to avoid confusion and ambiguity.
Everyone involved in a project, from the contractors to the designers to the team putting in the nuts and bolts, should be aware of who’s in charge of what, as well as the chain of command in assessing potential changes in duties. Contractors are becoming more involved in the design process, this much is true. But having a solid insurance plan in place as well as peace of mind rooted in education of delegation, the liabilities attached to delegated design could see a reduction.
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