Architects can now weigh in more freely before and after a project.
Brett Ryder Architects can now weigh in more freely before and after a project.

Third-party peer reviews of residential and commercial projects are rare, partly because architects, designers, and engineers don’t want to become entangled in legal disputes if something goes wrong during or after construction.

“We found that [professionals] were concerned about having their documents subpoenaed by an aggressive plaintiff’s attorney,” explains Bill Quatman, general counsel for Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co. in Kansas City, Mo.

Quatman co-authored a bill, signed into law by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon last summer, that could be a major first step toward mitigating reviewers’ risk. This legislation, the first of its kind in the U.S., provides protection for outside firms that review a design prior to a project’s completion, or engage in post-mortems to help project managers identify what went right and wrong after a project is finished.

Quatman believes this legislation will improve public safety and reduce design errors. He notes, too, that these protections are similar to those that doctors have enjoyed for 25 years.

“I like the fact that this gets more people talking about peer reviews,” observes Karen Erger, director of practice risk management for Lockton Cos., which provides education to architects and engineering clients. Since this bill became law on July 10, Quatman says he’s heard from engineering firms in Colorado, Oregon, Virginia, Kansas, and Minnesota that are interested in initiating similar actions in their states.

If this legislation were adopted elsewhere, expect some tweaking. Autumn Conrad, a spokeswoman for the American Society for Interior Designers, notes that while her group “supports the collaboration of all design professionals,” the Missouri law does not encompass interior designers.

Russell A. Davidson, chairman of The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Board Advocacy Committee, states that AIA supports laws “that encourage architects to become better at what they do, without unwittingly opening themselves up to even more liability.”

But he also points out that the Missouri law doesn’t completely immunize third-party reviewers. “The threat of being sued, regardless of the issue of liability, is still a concern.”

Illustration by Brett Ryder

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Kansas City, MO.