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Consultants’ Shop Drawings
Liability for Consultants’ Errors in Checking Shop Drawings

Arthur O'Leary, FAIA, MRIAI

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Architect’s Consultants
(Note 1)

Architects usually are not capable of performing the specialized design of structural, mechanical, and electrical systems and therefore subcontract these areas of design out to appropriate consulting engineers. The architect is still responsible to the client for the subcontracted portions of the design and is also responsible for the coordination of specialized engineering efforts with the architectural design.

Likewise, the review and approval of consultants’ shop drawings is subcontracted along with the design. Architects, when making their agreements with consultants, should be sure that shop drawing review and coordination are included in the consultant’s duties. (Note 2) In case of a consultant’s design error, the architect is responsible to the owner, but has legal recourse for indemnity from the consultant.

Contractor’s Submittals
When a contractor submits shop drawings and other specified submittals for systems, materials, and equipment designed by architects’ consultants the architect should send them on to the consultant for review and decision. The consultant should then determine if the shop drawings are adequate and whether or not the work depicted will, when completed, comply with the design documents. It is the consultant’s responsibility to determine whether or not to reject the documents or to approve them, with or without conditions.

The architect is required to maintain a record of the contractor’s submittals, including those referred to consultants for their review. (B141-1997, Clause

Routing of the shop drawings and other submittals should be from the contractor, through the architect, to the consultants. After consultant review and recommended action, the documents should then be sent back through the architect to the contractor.

Architect’s Review of Submittals that have been Referred to Consultants
The architect should also check the consultants’ shop drawings and other submittals to make sure that the materials and equipment will properly interface with the building and not be in conflict with architectural requirements. For example, checking that mechanical and electrical equipment will fit into the spaces allocated for it. Also, the architect should compare the documents with other interfacing contract documents and shop drawings that the consultant may not have been aware of. It is the architect’s responsibility to coordinate the services provided by the architect and the architect’s consultants. (B141-1997, Subparagraph 2.1.1.)

Mistakes on Shop Drawings Reviewed by Consultants
Architects are concerned that technical shop drawings will contain hard to detect errors and omissions that would not be recognized by the staff of the average architectural office. Such shortcomings could be in the shop drawings themselves or could possibly be in the consultant’s faulty checking or erroneous approval or rejection of the documents.

Some architects feel uneasy about approving or rejecting shop drawings that have been approved or rejected by the consultant. They may feel that by their approving or rejecting the shop drawings they are assuming responsibility for undiscovered mistakes in the submittals or for erroneous approvals or rejections. They feel that by not stamping the consultant’s shop drawings they are thereby limiting their liability for error in the checking or approval of the documents. They feel safer by returning the submittals to the contractor stamped only by the consultant.

This may be erroneous thinking, however, as the architect has the prime responsibility to the owner for the processing of shop drawings. (Note 3) So, as far as the owner is concerned, the review and approval is the architect’s responsibility.

The architect should stamp the shop drawings but only after the consultant has reviewed and stamped them. It is doubtful that the architect could avoid responsibility to the owner by not stamping the shop drawings.

Consultant’s Obligation to the Architect
The consultant, according to AIA’s Architect- Consultant Agreement, provides professional services to the architect in the same manner and to the same extent as the architect is bound by the prime agreement to provide such services for the owner. (C141-1997, Article 1.)

When a claim is made against the architect in connection with the scope of services provided by the consultant, the architect is entitled to legal indemnification by the consultant. This is often facilitated by professional indemnity insurance carried by the consultant. If the architect and consultant agree that the consultant shall carry professional indemnity insurance covering claims arising out of the performance of professional services under the agreement, the details should be entered at Subparagraph 13.5 of C141-1997. The architect should seek professional help from insurance or legal counsel in assessing the validity and scope of the consultant’s insurance coverage.

Disputes Between the Architect and a Consultant
In the event that a dispute arises between the architect and a consultant in respect to the consultant’s services, the agreement provides for resolution by means of mediation under the Construction Industry Mediation Rules of the American Arbitration Association. If the mediation fails, then the dispute will be referred to arbitration under the Construction Industry Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association. (Notes 4 and 5)


1. This article is based on the use of standard AIA contract forms: General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, A201-1997 (Incorporated as part of the Owner-Contractor Agreement.) Owner-Architect Agreement, B141-1997 Architect- Consultant Agreement, C141-1997.

2. The AIA Standard Form of Agreement Between Architect and Consultant, Document C141-1997, provides in Subparagraph 4.5.11 for the consultant to review the contractor’s submittals in respect to the portion of the work entrusted to the consultant. This subparagraph is harmonious with the comparable provision in the AIA Owner-Architect Agreement, B141-1997,

3. In the AIA Owner-Architect Agreement, B141-1997, Subparagraph, the Architect is required to “review and approve or take other appropriate action upon the Contractor’s submittals such as Shop Drawings, Product Data, and Samples…”

4. Additional information on consultants’ shop drawings will be found in “A Guide to Successful Construction - Effective Contract Administration,” Third Edition, by Arthur F. O’Leary, FAIA, MRIAI, published by BNi Publications. See page 31, Chapter 8, and Chapter 12, bottom of page 123 to end of chapter. This and other titles by Arthur O’Leary are available at www.bookworkz.com.

5. See also “Shop Drawings - Part 1 and Part 2,” by Arthur F. O’Leary, FAIA, MRIAI, in Design Cost Data, Mar/ Apr 2003 and May/Jun 2003. 

Art O’Leary Reader Comments on “Quality Assurance/Quality Control”
Nov/Dec 2003 Issue of DCD

Mr. O’Leary, 
You may want to pass on to Mr. Dorfield that he could also approach his US Army Corps of Engineers District Office (Pittsburgh?) or the Ohio River Division, Corps of Engineers and possibly get more information and examples of what they require for QA/QC plans from contractors bidding government jobs.

Although I do not work in that region and therefore do not have specific points of contact, I would think a few phone calls or key strokes on the internet explorer should get Mr. Dorfield started in the right direction.

Kevin Orton

Dear Art,
I enjoyed your article on QA/QC in this months issue of DCD. I might suggest (American Society for Quality) as one source of individuals trying to address the issue of professional standards for Architects and Engineers. Other writing may include the Malcomb Baldridge criterial or standards set by the Naval Facilities Engineersing Command. Thank you for for article.

Jon Brauss


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