Sunday, February 17, 2008

AIA, NSPE and ACEC conduct Annual Design Professional Liability Insurance Survey


Professional liability insurance is increaingly critical to the successful design professional. Today’s Architect and Engineer has more choices in coverages and insurance options then ever before. Better still, those choices come at competitive prices. To assist their members in negotiating the complex and ever changing professional liability insurance market, the AIA Risk Management Committee, in collaboration with the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), and the AIA Trust conduct an annual survey of those companies providing liability insurance coverages for the practicing design professional. Written surveys were completed by each company where standard questions are answered. The process culminated with a joint meeting in Chicago in October of 2007, where representatives from each company were interviewed to determine not only the unique and specific aspects of their particular coverages, but also to identify emerging market trends. Those findings are discussed hereafter. An overall summary of the survey results can be found on the AIA national website at

The Market in General

Market Health All of the carriers interviewed indicated that the overall market is generally healthy. The influx of capital seen in prior years has continued, which has engendered competition. Premiums are generally declining, and most carriers concentrate on retaining their current insureds. As most carriers also indicated a desire to expand their business, the expectation is that overall premiums will continue to trend downward, although no substantial drop in rates is expected. Since the design professionals have many options today, carriers are placing more emphasis on the accuracy of their underwriting and reserves.

Claims Trends Most carriers reported that the incidence of claims continues to remain relatively flat. However, the severity of claims continues to rise, albeit at a relatively small rate. When the severity of claims is adjusted for inflation, the actual rise is very small. Some areas of the market (housing and public buildings in particular) have seen a rise in both the incidence and the severity of claims. Most carriers reported an increase in claims arising out of geo-technical issues.

Carrier Health AM Best financial ratings (a leading indicator of the financial health of an insurance carrier) held steady over the past year. Those carriers who shared information concerning their profit models generally adhered to the proposition that they must generate a profit on their underwriting. In years past, some carriers had relied on investment income for profits while operating their underwriting at a loss. As certain types of risks derivative of specific types of work mature, some carriers are open about their intention to manage those risks by reducing the number of firms which perform that type of work in their book of business. Since overall market health depends on maintaining a number of healthy carriers, this business focus likely bodes well for the long term.

Developing Trends

Building Information Modeling (BIM) While building information modeling is a concern, claims exclusively derivative of the BIM project delivery system have not yet emerged. Most carriers admit that the insurance industry generally plans for the worst. In its infancy, CADD presented some of the same concerns inherent in BIM. Not only did the worst CADD fears never develop, CADD has actually made the industry much more efficient and better. The normal approach - stay at arm’s length and blame someone else - likely will not work with BIM since the A/E involvement by definition must be much more immediate. Generally, most carriers believe that the traditional issues (standard of care, scope creep, contract language, etc.) will eventually present again as the technology develops, albeit from a BIM perspective. Most carriers are already addressing the easier questions (damage from viruses, hardware and software compatibility, electronic transfer of documents, etc.) in their current policies.

Sustainability / Green Design As with BIM, claims that are exclusively derivative of sustainable design principles have not as yet materialized. However, with owners investing
heavily in sustainable features on the strength of promises that the investments will pay dividends, carriers are concerned that the claims will eventually develop if performance projections do not materialize.

Housing With the market squeeze on the hosing sectors, most carriers report an up-tick in residential claims. While the exact causes are unclear, the belief is that builders and owners are seeking to recoup losses the see from the general tightening of the residential market. Residential issues have become the principal source of claims for some carriers. As the housing market difficulties continue, claims in this sector are expected to do increase.

Cost Re-Allocation The drive to quantify the standard of care by contract is increasing. Public owners in particular are now insisting on contract clauses that allocate fault to the design professional where cost overruns exceed a specified level. Worse, the levels at which owners are seeking cost recovery has dropped to almost zero. For some carriers, the onset of this cost recovery mentality has elevated public work above condominiums (a traditional claim hotbed) as a claims generator.

Aging Infrastructure As the infrastructure ages and deteriorates it commands an increasing level of attention. The need for inspection and evaluation of those aging buildings and systems has created a new market for some firms. However, conducting an inspection may carry with it liability for conditions that were the subject of the inspection, but which were not detected.

The purpose of the survey is to provide the design professional with basic information necessary to make an informed choice from the myriad of carriers and insurance products available in today’s market. The design professional should ask;

Does my insurance broker have access to a range of carriers and products so that I can take best advantage of the choices the competitive market provides?

Am I receiving competitive premium quotes that reflect the level of competition inherent in today’s market?

Does my carrier have a loss prevention / risk management program, and, if so, does it provide me with appropriate value in exchange for the investment?

The A/E liability insurance market is more varied and dynamic than ever before. While that circumstance creates opportunity, it also demands careful attention to, and evaluation of the numerous options available such that the opportunity is fully realized.

Frederick F. Butters, FAIA, Esq. co-chairs the AIA National Risk Management committe and serves as Board of Directors liaison to the AIA Trust. For more information about this issue, contact him at Keranen & Associates, P.C., 6895 Telegraph Road, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48301, Tel: (248) 647-9653.

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