Guest Post: Musings on BIM, IPD and Risk (by Christopher G. Hill, @constructionlaw)

Christopher G. Hill is a lawyer, Virginia Supreme Court certified General District Court mediator and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC, a LEED AP. Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. Additionally, Chris is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and a member of the Board of Governors for the Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.

First of all thanks to Brian for the forum to share my “Musings” (yes it’s a plug for my blog) on Building Information Modeling (BIM) and alternative project delivery (such as integrated project delivery or IPD).  I appreciate his past guest posts at my little construction law blog and truly appreciate the opportunity.

Like the movement toward sustainable or “Green” building, BIM and IPD have grown over the last few years.  In many ways, the growth of these two “movements” in construction and construction design has occurred in a somewhat symbiotic fashion.  For instance, many of the LEED certification points are best achieved by the use of BIM for integration of the various systems at a sustainable project.  All of this is laudable.  

However (and you knew that a post from a construction attorney would have a “however”), like any new (or relatively new) design or construction method, there are risks.  Insurance policies, form construction contracts and other documents continue to evolve in an attempt to catch up with the ever changing world of innovation and construction.  The learning curve is steep as architects, owners, engineers, contractors and subcontractors transition from traditional “straight line” models to the more integrated and “cooperative” methods.  Construction professionals steeped in “traditional” methods need time to wrap their heads around the new paradigm.

Allocation of risk will be a big issue in construction defect, breach of contract, and design defect litigation.  When everyone is involved from the beginning, it can get muddy as to what responsibility falls upon whom.  When an architect, engineer, general contractor and HVAC subcontractor are all parties to design decisions: who takes the hit when the compressor fails?  When the roofer, mason, GC and design professional are all involved in the material and design decisions, who’s insurance policy ultimately pays if the wall falls down?

Furthermore, when architects and engineers are more involved in the construction management process (something that architects may or may not have the historical skill set to do), will the architects liability coverage kick in should disaster strike due not to the initial design but due to the management decisions of the architect or engineer that is no longer just an owner’s representative.

This discussion does not take into account the human factor in all of this.  

Like the charge forward into sustainable construction methods, anything new leads to different types of risks (if not different names for those risks).  The same Eeyore like thoughts that I have about sustainable construction apply here.  In short, we need to be careful with this new stuff.  We need to acknowledge the risks and deal with them.  None of this is insurmountable or a reason to ditch the new in favor of the old, but new policy decisions and changes in project delivery need to be carefully considered and contractual/insurance relationships and policies need to be reconsidered for those projects using these methods.

These new delivery methods are great, just don’t let the light of innovation turn into that of an oncoming train.

Thanks again to Chris for allowing me to return the favor for the guest posts at Construction Law Musings. He and I welcome your comments.

Image courtesy EEPaul