Avoid a lawsuit with 3 key practices for architects and engineers

A simple mistake in building design and construction can have dreadful consequences. Even a seemingly insignificant defect can ruin the reputation of the engineer or architect of the project. Such defects lead to potential lawsuits and claims against architects and engineers. In the case of most projects, the liability falls upon the builder, a contractor, or a sub-contractor. 

It’s especially true if the construction hasn’t been done according to the plans given by the designer. Sometimes, the defects could result from a mistake or omission you’re your end, such as an error in calculations. Sometimes, you may not even be at fault – it could be a misunderstanding on the client’s end. But in any case, claims and lawsuits can be costly and can do irreparable damage to your reputation.

Some basic precautions you can take to avoid such claims are:

1. Get your work checked by a trusted colleague

2. If you have a small business, only take on as much work as you can. Don’t take on extra work unless you have the necessary resources.

3. Pay attention to customer service. Keep your clients informed of the progress or hurdles, if any.

4. Consider getting architect liability insurance or another form of professional insurance to safeguard yourself against all kinds of claims.

Let’s look at the three most common reasons clients file lawsuits against engineers or architects.

The client believes you made an error.

Human error is always possible, and you might think these errors often happen, especially in cases of large scale or complex projects. However, it’s not always the case. Sometimes the error is a simple mistake in calculation.

Imagine the number of complex calculations you have to make for a single project in a day. Now, multiple that number with the number of projects you have on your hands at the moment. When the numbers add up, you can see how many ‘simple’ errors can occur in a single day!

Any error or omission from your end that costs your client’s money can become the cause of a lawsuit against you. The difference between an error and omission is as follows:

· An error is when you make a mistake, such as a miscalculation. 

· An omission is when you forget to include something in the designs that should have been there.

These errors and omissions can cause severe damage to the building later or even cause physical injury to the occupants. For example, if an engineer makes an error in calculations while designing a rather long bridge, the bridge could collapse due to insufficient support or the inability to carry weight. To avoid such mistakes, it’s a good idea to get your calculations and designs checked by a co-worker. 

The time and money spent on getting your work double-checked will still be lesser than what you might have to pay on a lawsuit and will be beneficial in the long run. Even if you’re super-confident of your work, it never hurts to have another pair of eyes confirm it. It also helps to have a contractor and architects liability insurance if things go wrong and you have to face an expensive lawsuit.

The client claims professional negligence or malpractice

Negligence and malpractice lawsuits are filed by disgruntled clients who have no idea what is going on with their projects. If your business lacks effective communication, you can expect a negligence or malpractice lawsuit.

Some key things that you must always, always communicate to your client are:

· The overall progress of the project from time to time

· Any hurdles you may come across

· Any delays you expect

· If you expect the costs to go over the planned budget for any reason

In addition to the above points, you must pay attention if your clients are complaining about something. If their complaints go unanswered, you can almost certainly expect a negligence lawsuit. You must also ensure that you meet the standard of care expected from your business. It means a reasonable amount of care that is expected from any professional in your industry.

In the case of architects or engineers, the standard of care includes the following:

· Avoiding personal injury

· Damage to property

· Meeting the exact specifications of the project

· Effective project management

· Appropriate documentation

· All the necessary inspections throughout the project

If you fail to meet these expectations, it could lead to a malpractice suit. It’s also critical to discuss every aspect of the project with the client beforehand and make correct time, cost, and scope estimations. When you set the right expectations with the clients at the outset, you’re less likely to attract a lawsuit.

Drawing up a clear and detailed contract at the beginning helps reduce lawsuits. It might be beneficial to hire an attorney to ensure legally valid agreements and evaluate the contract for each project. You can even add a ‘limited liability clause in the contract to further safeguard yourself against unnecessary liabilities.

The client is dissatisfied.

Dissatisfied clients are more likely to file a lawsuit against your business, even if it later turns out they were wrong. It usually happens if they are not given the necessary time and attention they expect and deserve. Communication gaps, as mentioned above, also add to this.

If you practice good communication skills, you reduce the chances of a lawsuit. Along with this, you must also ensure that you don’t take on work to the point that it doesn’t allow you to devote the required time to each client. Consider that you will be spending time communicating with the clients, drawing up contracts for each project, and finally, working on each project. The process can be very time-consuming, so it’s best to keep your workload low.

It’s also a good idea to have a review system in place. You can spend time with the clients and understand what is working for them if they face any challenges with the project and improve your services. It makes the clients feel valued, and they are less likely to sue you if they see that you care about their project.

If your workload goes beyond what you can handle, do consider hiring outside help. However, if you’re hiring independent contractors, ensure that they are thoroughly vetted and have good credentials. You don’t want to take on more risk when you’re trying to delegate work to reduce the chances of lawsuits!

Safeguard your business

Taking all the precautions mentioned so far can reduce the chances of a lawsuit. However, cases of lawsuits from some disgruntled clients are still there. It’s a good idea to get an architects liability insurance so that you don’t end up spending vast amounts of money on lawsuits.

To understand the importance of architects and engineers insurance in safeguarding your business, visit this website. Professional liability insurance, also known as Errors and Omission (E&O) insurance, can protect your business against claims made by unhappy clients. Click here to understand more about the kind of claims the E&O insurance covers, why it’s the right choice for you, and how to get the insurance for your business.