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What Is Builder’s Risk Insurance and Should I Purchase It For My Green Construction Project?

One area of the property insurance market which has seen an increase in green building policy endorsements over the past year is the builder’s risk market. GRELJ takes a look at exactly what builder’s risk is meant to insure, and then reviews some of the available green building endorsements to such policies that are currently available.

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Jerry Yudelson: “Dereliction” of Duty by Architects & Engineers Who Fail to Advocate for LEED Certification

Green building consultant Jerry Yudelson’s recent remarks provide a good opportunity to review the risk management implications of the design professional’s representations to his or her clients about the possibilities and potential pitfalls of green building, including the LEED certification process.

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Reactions to Green Building Industry’s First LEED Certification “Guarantee:” Implications for Insurance Coverage & Limitation of Liability Provisions

As you likely know by now, Atlanta-based Energy Ace, Inc. recently announced that it will offer what the company is calling the green building industry’s first LEED certification guarantee. According to Energy Ace CEO Wayne Robertson, the firm “can offer clients a certainty that their project is going to be certified and remove that anxiety.” The specifics of the guarantee are as follows: clients retain Energy Ace pursuant to a standard service contract under which the firm performs LEED administration, fundamental building commissioning, and energy modeling. It holds a LEED charette and, if everything is satisfactory, the contract will be amended to “guarantee” certification. That guarantee, though, actually reads in substance much more like a limitation on Energy Ace’s liability; if the project fails to earn its target level of certification (i.e. Gold or Silver) or is not certified at all, Energy Ace will refund its LEED administration fee to the owner (which is typically between 30 and 45 percent of its total fee). Although there are a number of additional facts that would be helpful in analyzing the implications of the Energy Ace initiative more comprehensively, I do think it provides us with a timely opportunity to review a number of important general construction contract and insurance coverage considerations, many of which we have considered here at GRELJ during the course of 2009.

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Case Study: A Practical Look at the Risks of Green Roofs

Recently, there have been a number of articles suggesting that the risks associated with green roofs have been overblown. Over the past few days, I’ve spent some time looking for more concrete examples of green roof-related risks in practice. I started by looking for case law where a plaintiff alleged an attractive nuisance claim against the owner of a building arising out of a green roof or other rooftop landscaping. Westlaw did not return any results entirely on point, but I did find a number of interesting attractive nuisance decisions which I may present in a subsequent post here at GRELJ. The much more practical research that I turned up was the following except from an article by Kelly Luckett, the self-proclaimed “Green Roof Guy” who writes a column for greenroofs.com. In a column from the very end of 2008, Mr. Luckett describes how uneducated project teams may unwittingly expose themselves to unanticipated risks stemming from the maintenance requirements of green roof installations. His remarks also reflect a number of key points we’ve made consistently both here at GRELJ and over at gbNYC with respect to the additional risk management strategies demanded by new green building technologies and third-party certification programs.

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New Marsh Report Offers Construction Industry Feedback on Green Building Risks

It may have been lost a bit in the recent discussion over LEED 2009 decertification, but last month Marsh released a new report that solicited feedback from construction industry executives on the risks that they perceive as arising out of green design and construction across ten risk categories: brand and competitive edge or reputation, project consultants and subcontractors, education, finance, building performance, green building regulations, return on investment, standards of care and legal, supply chain and technology. To obtain the feedback, Marsh convened four forums in in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City in late 2008 and early 2009, which were attended by a total of 55 industry executives. While the executive summary to the report, which is titled “Green Building: Assessing the Risks, Feedback from the Construction Industry,” acknowledges that its findings “might be characterized as anecdotal,” I do think that the report is important to consider in the context of the types of risks that stakeholders identified as the most salient.

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Victor Schinnerer: New LEED AP Program Raising Standards of Care, Changing Risk Profiles

Victor Schinnerer’s most recent quarterly report has some interesting commentary on the increased risk that the new LEED Accredited Professional (“LEED AP”) program may be creating for professionals that participate on LEED projects. Specifically, on page 4, the report notes that the new LEED AP program, which divides LEED APs into three tiers of increasing expertise, from LEED Green Associate, to LEED AP with specialization, and up to LEED AP Fellow, “has significantly changed the value of the program and the risks to [the] program’s participants.” However, although the report acknowledges that “[m]embers of the upgraded LEED AP [Fellow] program now will face a higher standard of care for their services,” it also states that “[c]urrently this increased exposure is a manageable risk. Current claims information does not indicate a need for additional insurance premiums to cover the exposure created by the higher standard of care.” I think that this latter point is critical- as I wrote previously here at GRELJ, most professional liability insurance policies contain an exclusion for assumptions of liability that are not imposed by law (i.e., because the LEED AP Fellow designation implies that the design professional will perform at a higher level than the prevailing common law standard, the design professional may not be covered for any resulting claims of negligent design services arising out of disputed green design services). It seems to me that if the LEED AP fellow designation implies a higher standard of care than is prevalent in the industry, this type of form exclusion would come into play. Accordingly, I am very curious to see if there is any reaction from insurance industry professionals on this crucial issue.

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Considering Standard of Care Provisions in Green Construction Contracts

One of the most critical provisions in any contract for professional design services relates to the standard of care under which the design professional will be required to render its services. In the absence of contract language to the contrary, a design professional will be held to a common law standard of care commensurate with that of other professionals providing the same services to a geographically similar community. However, on a green building project, an owner may seek to retain a design professional specifically because of its sustainable design expertise. Accordingly, it may attempt to hold the design professional to a higher standard of care than that which prevails in the industry. This may be problematic for both sides for a number of reasons. Professional liability insurance policies provide insurance for legal liability that arises out of negligent professional acts, errors, or omissions. However, if not properly vetted, standard of care provisions have the potential to trigger standard exclusions to such policies. This article suggests two such exclusions and strategies for owners and design professionals to consider as they draft and negotiate construction agreements for green building projects.

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Mitigating Risks When Building Green Roofs

Green roofs have been a part of building for over a thousand years. The current green building movement has, however, had the greatest impact on the growth of the green roofing industry. A green roof is commonly defined as a roof that consists of vegetation and soil, or a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. There are two basic types of green roofs: (i) an extensive roof, which has a few inches of soil cover; and (ii) an intensive roof that has two feet or more of soil for a variety of grass, trees, bushes and shrubs. Green roofs are used in a multitude of buildings, including industrial facilities, commercial offices, retail properties and residences. The benefits of a green roof include reduced storm-water runoff, absorption of air pollution, reduced heat island effect, protection of underlying roof material from sunlight, reduced noise, and insulation from extreme temperatures. A green roof can thus be a critical design element for a green building. As more properties across the country are attempting to obtain LEED certification, it is worth noting that a green roof can help a property obtain over a dozen LEED credits, including credits for reduced site disturbance, landscape design that reduces urban heat islands, storm water management, water efficient landscaping, innovative wastewater technologies and innovation in design. The increase in green roofs and the green building movement is also resulting in an increase in liability resulting from errors in the design, installation or maintenance of green roofs. As a result, owners, design professionals and contractors should carefully consider ways to mitigate the potential risks involved with building a green roof.

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