Guilty until proven innocent: Claims defense documentation
“Documentation is the crucible by which the accused design professional’s fate is tested and determined in the courts.”
This paper by James Atkins, FAIA, addresses the critical issue of project documentation as it applies to project communications, decisions and record keeping. When a claim is made, actions taken and decisions made by the architect will be generally considered unsupported unless there is a written record, and the architect will be presumed guilty unless proven otherwise by project records.
Today, for many, the smartphone is the tool of choice for managing billion-dollar projects, and the immediate access and transmission of documents is demanded. The portable document format, or PDF, has liberated – or perhaps it is more accurate to say unleashed – contractor submittals, and architects may be expected to review unforeseen proposals and respond within the hour to avoid the accusation of delay. All the while, the sanctity of the written word is dependent upon who physically possesses a digital copy in her or his server.
Because our legal system continues to hinge on documentation, this paper provides a guideline for managing documentation, with helpful suggestions for retention and retrieval and efficient claims response in the event you must prove your innocence.
It offers five rules for document retention, and five additional rules for documenting meetings. Documents typically provided by the owner and the contractor are examined first, followed by documents that the architect should possess and be concerned with during the construction phase. Each section concludes with a discussion summary, and a master checklist of documents is included.