Drafting Service Files: Important Liability Information For Shop Drawings

Understanding your legal obligations as a glazing contractor

Shop drawings rarely come to mind when discussing legally thorny issues.

As a glazing contractor, you’re accustomed to managing risks and addressing liability in many aspects of your projects. And shop drawings probably fall somewhere near the bottom of the list.

But our experience as a drafting resource for glazing contractors has shown that many risks arise during the shop drawing production phase.

Mitigating Risks in the Drawing & Submittal Process

Disputes often arise during the shop drawing and submittal review.

It’s a common misconception that the approval of a submittal or shop drawing transfers the risk and liability to the owner of the project. In fact, if a contractor executes a project exactly as outlined by the approved shop drawings, but it turns out there were problems with the design, the contractor IS in fact responsible for correcting the problem – even though the submittal was approved.

The contractor is not relieved from responsibility for errors or deviations from the Contract Documents when the project architect approves submittals, UNLESS the architect has provided specific approval of a deviation in writing.

The lesson here is to never simply rely upon the architect’s review. Any deviations in the shop drawings from the contract drawings must be clearly marked and brought to the attention of the project architect. It’s important to document everything to protect your company in the event of a construction error or accident.

Your shop drawings need to indicate the intended systems, components, and the means and methods for installing the glazing system. This is often set out in the initial contract, forcing the glazing contractor to follow the Contract Documents.

So what, exactly, qualifies as a contract document?

Contract Documents – According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA)

According to the AIA, which has been the industry’s court-tested standard for more than a century, Contract Documents include:

  • The Agreement Conditions of the Contract
    • General,
    • Supplementary, and
    • Other Conditions
  • Drawings
  • Specifications
  • Addenda issued prior to execution of the Contract
  • Other documents listed in the Agreement
  • Modifications issued after execution of the Contract

The AIA explicitly says the following are NOT contract documents:

  • Shop drawings
  • Product data
  • Samples and similar submittals

The purpose of these latter documents is solely to demonstrate how the contractor proposes to conform to the information laid out in the design concept as shown in the Contract Documents.

These provisions are designed to protect the owner of the project, so as a contractor, you need to be aware of and protect yourself against these risks.

ALWAYS Follow the Contract Documents – Don’t Just Rely on the Architect’s Review

It’s extremely important for draftspersons and project managers to make sure the shop drawings and submittals follow the contract documents 100%. Any deviations should be very clearly labeled and if not addressed, you must follow up with the architect AND the project owner to get a formal change order.

Never deviate from the approved plans without getting sign off. If you do, you’re risking having to make costly changes to the project after glazing installation, or, even worse, a lawsuit.

In the case that something goes wrong and somebody gets hurt due to a deviation, you, as the contractor, can be held liable if you don’t get approval from the building owner (approval from the architect-engineer alone is insufficient in this case).

A very high profile example of this occurred when the contractor on Kansas City’s Hyatt Regency Hotel requested in an RFI to simplify a threaded-rod connection on a skywalk. The request was approved the architect but not the owner of the project. This wasn’t sufficient to release the contractor and the architect from liability for damages.

As a drafting resource to many different glazing contractors, we’ve seen instances in which deviations were made and, to our knowledge, nobody ever followed up. If there’s ever an issue after installation, these companies will be held responsible to fix the problem and provide the intended components without compensation.

Need Help Navigating This Thorny Issue?

MP Drafting personnel have been trained to identify any deviations during the shop drawing preparation phase and to call out these changes to the project manager and in writing on the shop drawings directly.

If you’re looking for a new third-party drafting resource, give our team a try. We work exclusively with glass and glazing contractors.

Contact us today to learn more about our drafting services.