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All too frequently, design firms incur significant liability not because they did something wrong, but because they failed to carefully scrutinize their contracts and left too much room for ambiguity. Contractual certainty, and documentation of communications, becomes increasingly important when it comes to design delegation.
Together with growing pressure to shorten project schedules and decrease costs, there is a general acknowledgment that specialty subcontractors often have their own approach to fabrication and installation of project components such as curtain wall systems, fire suppression systems and the like. It is therefore becoming increasingly common for architects and engineers to delegate aspects of the project’s design to the general contractor and its subs. Almost all such delegation is done pursuant to performance specifications provided by the architect or engineer of record, but if the contract and/or project documentation is ambiguous, the design professional may look back and wish that it had provided detailed design of every connection, nut and bolt itself.
More Designers, More Exposure
Although the AIA A201-2017 provides a framework for the process of design delegation and the apportionment of fault between project participants, it provides little detail. The complexities introduced are numerous, and should be acknowledged in the contract(s) and in project documentation:
Owners’ reasonable expectations for efficiency, together with new technologies and an acknowledgment that constructors are the installation experts, suggest that design delegation will continue to expand. But the blending of roles and responsibilities gives rise to complexities that need to be dealt with on the front end. The parties’ perspectives and expectations will vary, and the only assumption that should be made is that something will go wrong. If and when it does, contract certainty and detailed project documentation will hopefully keep small problems from becoming litigable issues.
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