Better by Design
Professional Liability Concerns When Working with Contract Architects

As a trained and certified professional, an architect might choose to act on their own, either taking on work as a side job or going full time as a contractor. If you or your firm decides to work with a contract architect, be aware of how it will affect your professional liability.

Liability Risks for Any Contractor

Liability Risks for Any Contractor

Historically, clients suing over professional negligence were the only threat that architects faced. (To learn more about that, check out the article, "Architect Professional Liability Considerations When Working with Clients.") However, in recent years, the number of creative lawsuits has increased, leaving architects vulnerable to suits brought by third parties and tenants. Having a contract architect on board for a project potentially increases these risks.

To give you a full picture of your risk exposures, know that your firm can be found liable for a number of situations, such as…

  • The negligence of contractors working on your project.
  • Faulty cost estimates or delays in construction.
  • Personal injury resulting from your design.
  • Economic losses resulting from your services.
  • Building code violations.
  • Environmental law violations.

Given the high stakes, it's important that the contract architect you're working with is not only suitable for the project, but also separate from your firm in terms of responsibility, liability, and insurance coverage.

What to Do When Working with a Contract Architect

What to Do When Working with a Contract Architect

Knowing your liability and minimizing your risks is essential for any architecture business owner. Though Professional Liability Insurance offers recourse when you're hit with a lawsuit over your work, there are some ways to minimize risks from the outset.

When you work with a part-time contract architect, you can reduce your liability exposures by implementing these tips:

  • Make sure their Professional Liability Insurance is theirs alone. That is, if they are employed full-time at another business but working part-time on their own as a contractor, they need to have an insurance policy in their name. They should NOT be part of another business's coverage.
  • Verify that they are truly a contractor. The employment status of a contractor isn't decided by the contract, but by law on both state and federal levels. If their job description technically makes them an employee, then you'll have to cover them with your own insurance policy. Consult the AIA's guide to determine the employment status of a potential contractor.
  • Delineate responsibility. Be sure your client understands that the expertise your subcontractor provides is not your own. The clearest way to avoid increasing your liability is to always emphasize that the contract architect is liable for their own work, and you are not. Do this in writing and verbally. Foster good communication between you, your contractor, and your client so that everyone understands who is responsible for what.
  • Check references and examples of past work. This ensures the contractor has good business practices and doesn't bring added risk.

By doing the above, you can add a contract architect to your project without worry. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to take advantage of the increased expertise a contractor can bring, and with the proper precautions, you can keep your business safe at the same time.

For more risk management tips, be sure to read "Managing Professional Liability with Internal Policies: Architects and Engineers."

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