Standards of Care: Architects (Checklists)

Liability for negligence by an architect generally requires proof that his conduct in question fell below the standard of care customarily exercised by prudent architects under the same or similar circumstances. Measurement of that standard of care is sometimes both difficult and elusive.

What the architectural community might do in a particular situation on a project is not something provable with any mathematical certainty. As professionals, architects can be understood to approach various problems they face with different solutions, more than one of which may bring about successful results.

However, there are certain standards of care which are, or should be, customarily employed by prudent and careful architects. One such practice must be the use of a checklist in connection with the architect's services, particularly his certification of substantial and final completion. No architect can be expected to remember every detail which must be verified or accomplished prior to those important certifications.

For that reason many architectural firms have their own checklists, and others use the American Institute of Architects project checklist (AIA Document D200). By use of a sufficiently comprehensive checklist, the architect will be reminded to make sure that all of the necessary testing has been accomplished, written approvals provided, lien releases obtained, operation manuals delivered to the owner, punchlist work accomplished, and that other special requirements of the plans and specifications are satisfied. Otherwise, his certificates may be meaningless and his risk of being held liable for negligence is increased.

Whatever inconvenience might be involved in the use of a checklist may be compensated for by avoidance of a claim that, for instance, the architect was negligent because he failed to assure that backfill around a building was properly compacted and tested and, as a consequence, the building was plagued by monumental structural distress.

On the other hand, by maintaining completed checklists the architect whose work is challenged, perhaps years later, would be able to pull out his checklist. It would verify that he did, indeed, do what was expected of competent architects.

The comfort of knowing that he has both done what was required and logged his efforts should be invaluable to the prudent architect.