The Problem Of Liability

Architects and engineers, like other professionals, are expected to exercise reasonable care and skill in carrying out their work. Although this does not imply 100 percent perfection at all times, the level of performance should be consistent with that ordinarily provided by other qualified practitioners under similar circumstances. Law relating to professional responsibility and liability has become very active in recent years, and the zone of risk and exposure has expanded dramatically in professional practice. Indeed, under current law, whenever a designer enters into a contractual agreement and specifies a subsystem of a commercial or institutional space, he or she becomes responsible for the performance of that system.

Among the more significant areas of exposure are the liability of the architect engineer to third parties unconnected with the contract for claims of negligence or errors in design that lead to alleged injury of persons using the building. The legal bases for the majority of current liability suits include professional negligence, implied warranty or misrepresentation, implied fitness warranty, breach of contract, joint and several liability, and liability without fault for design defects. Often, these legal bases overlap. Thus, a designer who fails to reject defective work by a contractor or supplier may be considered to be professionally negligent and in breach of contract.

Designers can protect themselves from possible liability suits by working within their area of expertise, using concise contracts and specifications, complying with codes and regulations, using reputable contractors, maintaining accurate records, and securing legal counsel and liability insurance.

Another area of exposure is building product performance—that is, holding the architect responsible for damages caused by faulty materials and components and sometimes for the cost of their replacement. This tends to place a heavy emphasis on the selection and specification of building products with long records of satisfactory performance, thus inhibiting the introduction of new materials and methods.

Product liability is mainly concerned with negligence. And while it greatly affects manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, and distributors, designers and specifiers are increasingly becoming involved in product-liability suits. Designers can minimize product-liability actions by specifying products manufactured for the intended use.

Electronic Screen Building
Figure 10.5 BSD SpecLink summary catalog listing and computer screen printout. SpecLink is one of the many electronic specification services that have emerged in recent years (source: Building Systems Design, Inc.).

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