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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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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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Professional Liability Insurance Policy Endorsement for LEED Projects May be Imminent

Both Marsh- in its recent report reviewing the current state of the insurance marketplace with respect to green construction issues – and representatives of the Fireman’s Fund at Greenbuild have indicated that we will likely see a new insurance product on the market sometime in 2009 for professionals participating on green building projects. The product would likely be crafted as an endorsement to an existing professional liability policy and cover design professionals or other consultants against the possibility that, by signing credit submittal templates or other documentation in connection with a green rating system, they will trigger the standard exclusion to their professional liability policy that excludes coverage for claims arising out of an express warranty or guarantee. This is a critical issue for professionals and suggests the type of heightened vigilance with which green construction contracts must be vetted.

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