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From professional athletes to professional landscapers, everyone wants to surround themselves with the best team to get the job done. But for architects, having the right team means more than just finding top talent: it means finding highly skilled, properly vetted, and adequately insured subconsultants to protect themselves down the road.
Generally, when an owner enters into a contract with an architect, that architect, or “prime designer,” becomes responsible to its client for the errors and omissions of its subconsultants on the project. Known as vicarious liability, it extends the architect’s contractual obligations to a stable of professionals, from the civil, structural, geotechnical, to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing subconsultants (MEPs).
That’s a big umbrella of liability. And as anyone who designs or builds for a living can tell you, there are about a million things that can go wrong on any given project.
When forming a team, an architect can cause serious problems for his firm by not hiring those with the right liability insurance coverage. For example, if an architect contracts with a geotechnical engineer who carries a $1,000,000 Professional Liability policy, and something goes wrong during the excavation of a foundation, say an unexpected subsurface condition is exposed which triggers a multi-million-dollar change order the architect may be held responsible. The claim will inevitably reach the prime designer.
To shield themselves from costly and unforeseen claims, we give our clients guidelines to consider when gathering up their stable of subconsultants.
Because of the vicarious liability associated with a project, some architects, while rare, won’t retain subconsultants, and instead will require the owner of the project to hire and retain them separately. Where that’s not an option, architects need to be diligent in making sure their team meets their liability requirements. Vicarious liability needs to be managed all the way downstream.