As the area of professional liability expands, the number of lawsuits against architects is constantly increasing. There are many theories as to why this is the case. Certainly this creates a lot of concern for those working in this field, since their exposures are wide and varied. This article will discuss three areas of risk, since it is critical for architects to better understand their risk so they can better protect themselves.
While each state has its own specific laws, it would be prudent to research and understand some of the major areas of liability for the architect in a particular jurisdiction. Unfortunately, an architect's liability may continue for many years after the completion of a project, further raising the need to protect their assets and their business with some form of architectural professional liability insurance.
Areas of concern for architects
1. Contract claims
These can come in innumerable forms, some of which include issues arising from:
Architects can also be held liable by third parties that they did not have a contract with, such as builders, general contractors, and sub-contractors. When an issue arises concerning quality, something that may not be specifically addressed in the contract, then it falls under the category of "negligence". Negligence may be a very broad topic, but is generally considered to be any work that does not adhere to a "Professional Standard of Care" and can therefore become a liability. (The American Institute of Architects gives a brief definition of that "standard" as well as different ways to set realistic expectations with clients allowing architects to limit their liability in this area.)
2. Design Liability
If there are problems, for instance, with a design that is later found to have been beyond the capabilities of the architect, there may again be grounds for a lawsuit. In some instances, a design might be viewed as unnecessarily complex, or extremely complicated and perhaps not very well thought out, which may result in an increase in the price of maintenance. Even when there is no specific issue (unexpected amount of glare through a window, leaky roof ) the architect can be found liable for the expensive upkeep.
3. Inspections and Observations
Because third party employees may do much of the work, inspections can be essential to the success of the project. Unfortunately, some architects may falter when it comes to staying vigilant and detailed on site. The courts have ruled that architects can still be held responsible for work done while they weren't present or were unable to observe the work being done. These are three strong arguments for professionals who value their reputation to invest in a solid architectural professional liability insurance policy to protect against such exposures.