Do you know that design professionals, including architects and engineers, can be held liable for issues that are not addressed during their review of shop drawings, especially when these develop into problems on a construction project? A construction lawyer will tell you that a professional has a duty to perform any requested service in accordance with the standard of care used by similar professionals in the same community working under like circumstances. This means the design professional must, at the very least, exercise reasonable care and skill.
Who Should Review Shop Drawings?
In the course of reviewing and approving shop drawings, a design professional should be cognizant of the contractual requirements specific to the job and should be sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled to recognize possible construction predicaments and design dilemmas.
It is therefore important that, in addition to basic qualifications, the individual professional to whom shop drawing review is assigned also be familiar with the governing contracts, related documents and design concepts for the particular work.
A design professional on a project would do well to insist that the general contractor’s schedule reflect sufficient time for all necessary shop drawing reviews.
Shop drawings are not short cuts to full and complete design. They should not be used as vehicles to suggest changes or substitutions to the project’s contractual requirements by any of the entities involved, be they the contractor, subcontractors, suppliers or design professionals. If it becomes necessary to make such changes, the contractor must initiate a specific request to the design professional to document a change order.
Shop Drawing Language
As for the design professional’s communication of the results of its shop drawing review, it has become clear that attempting to skirt responsibility by not using certain words may not really work. Unless specifically rejected, the shop drawing will be deemed approved. It therefore merits consideration that any rubber stamp used to convey the design professional’s opinion at least include these options: REVIEWED, APPROVED, REJECTED, REVISE and RESUBMIT. It is not recommended that the term Conditional Approval be used as it leaves open for interpretation too many aspects beyond the control of the reviewer. However, adding some limiting language to the stamp is wise, such as:
Review is limited to general conformance with Contract Documents and Design Concepts and does not release Contractor of its responsibility to determine and control construction means, methods, techniques, sequences and procedures as well as quantities of materials and dimensions of work.
Shop Drawing Risks
While the scheduling, review and coordination of shop drawings may appear to be mundane tasks, design professionals should be aware of liability risks that exist in this context. Indeed, in a recent construction dispute it was held that a chief design engineer breached the appropriate standard of care by approving a shop drawing calling for a certain type of wire without first determining whether the proposed materials would conform to project specifications while another case found that design consultants were guilty of delaying a project when they negligently failed to review, revise and coordinate certain shop drawings.
Shop drawing review is a serious matter – don’t take it lightly.