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Protect Yourself from the Subconsultants You Don’t Hire: Don’t Let Subs Sink Your Project (Part 4)

oswaldcompanies March 9, 2023

When serving as the lead or prime designer on a major project, nothing is more reassuring than having a knowledgeable and reliable team of subconsultants you can count on to bring your designs to life.

Ideally, lead designers build long-lasting relationships with subconsultants who understand the lead’s business and can provide the skills and expertise needed to carry out their specialized roles at a high standard.

In good times, when quality projects, skilled professionals, labor, supplies and materials are readily available, putting together a talented design team of subconsultants with whom you are well familiar is typically the norm. But lately, with shortages of resources — human and material– putting together talented design teams to execute quality designs on budget and on schedule has proven more difficult.

It’s virtually impossible to avoid liabilities for the actions of the subconsultants you hire. However, you might avoid liability for the subs on the projects you don’t hire.

Consider suggesting that your client directly hires some of the key specialty service subconsultants who have high risks and major roles in the project. For instance, clients might be willing to directly hire geotechnical engineers or land surveyors on projects that present subsurface risks.

This approach enables the client to have direct communication with these key players, while the lead designer maintains direct contact as well. Finding yourself out of the communication loop with key project participants will only lead to more potential liabilities, not fewer.

What if the client refuses to hire a subconsultant directly, yet insists that you hire a particular sub — especially one you consider risky, or one with whom you have no relationship? Tell the client you must perform due diligence before you would consider hiring this subconsultant.

You might also demand protective language in the prime contract. Then decide whether the subconsultant is sufficiently qualified to fill a key role in the project and whether you are willing to accept any vicarious liability that she or he presents.

Keep Your Contact Files Updated

Update your roster of subconsultant profiles annually. Include new information on those you have used and plan to use again, remove subconsultants you no longer consider suitable for your projects, and add new candidates from those who have not been on your roster before.

It’s also helpful to gather information about your subconsultants when conducting post-project reviews.

Finally, continue to obtain annual updated COIs from the subs to verify insurance coverage is still in place at the contracted amount for the stipulated duration of time.

Oswald can provide guidance on insurance issues and can refer you to fully vetted consultants. Contact your Oswald representative to learn how we can help.

For more information, visit our Architects & Engineers page or contact us here.


Note: This communication is for informational purposes only. Although every reasonable effort is made to present current and accurate information, Oswald makes no guarantees of any kind and cannot be held liable for any outdated or incorrect information. View our communications policy.