Professional liability insurance for architects and engineers.

Operations

By on Dec 22, 2017 in All Topics, Newsletters, Operations |

By Dennis Boo, CPA, PARTNER – Member of Withum’s Architecture and Engineering Group The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (“Tax Act of 2017”) is finalized. The contents are garnering a lot of discussion, and clearly there are many changes coming in 2018. The scope of this article is to headline a couple of the changes that will directly affect architect and engineering firms. EFFECT ON PASS THROUGH ENTITIES Current Tax Law Currently, owners of pass through entities, which include sole proprietors, S corporations, and partnerships, are required to report their allocable share of the business income on their individual income tax returns. New Law Since C corporations are getting a tax break in the Tax Act of 2017, both the House and Senate bills sought to level the playing field so pass through entities would not be disadvantaged. The resulting legislation will allow sole proprietors, shareholders of an S corporation, and partners of a partnership to claim a deduction against their allocable share of income from the pass through entity. Some specifics are as follows: The deduction is equal to 20% of the owner’s allocable share of income from the pass through entity. The 20% deduction will be limited to an amount equal to 50% of the company’s W-2 wages allocable to the owner (this limitation does not apply to owners whose taxable income is less than $157,500 for single filers and $315,000 for married filing jointly). An alternative limitation may be used, and is calculated as 25% of the company’s W-2 wages allocable to the owner plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis of property used in the business (generally this is the original cost). The deduction is taken on the owner’s individual income tax return Additional limitation on personal-service providers. Certain personal-service providers (namely accountants, attorneys, physicians) are subject to a phase out of the deduction when their taxable income reaches $157,500 (single) or $315,000 (married filing jointly). The phase out is complete at $207,500 and $415,000, respectively. So these professionals’ ability to claim the deduction will be largely limited. The good news for architects and engineers is they were specifically excluded from the definition of “personal-service providers” in the new law and therefore are not...

Read More

By on Jun 1, 2017 in All Topics, Newsletters, Operations |

Diane Mika, Vice President, Director of Risk Management Education, Berkley Design Professional Consider this scenario: An architect in your firm wants to design a home addition plan for a family member. Or this one: an engineer wants to take on a parking-lot project for a local non-profit organization she volunteers for. They may want the additional experience, income and/or recognition such moonlighting projects may bring. You may think, As long as they do it on their own time, it’s no big deal, right? Not necessarily. It’s not just the designer’s time that’s at issue. There’s a very real potential that your firm could be held liable in the event of a claim related to the moonlighting work. Professional Liability Insurance Your next question may be, But wouldn’t my firm’s professional liability insurance policy cover it anyway? Again, not necessarily. Typically, such policies specify that employees are covered—but only for those services performed on behalf of the firm. Even if your PL insurance policy responds to such a claim, keep in mind that your firm would be responsible for any deductible. In either event, you need to ask yourself this: Do I want to be on the line for paying the cost of a claim on a project for which my firm received no income? What Puts Your Firm at Risk If a claim arises out of a moonlighting project, anything that implicates your firm’s involvement can result in imputed liability against your firm. Any of the following situations might imply that your firm was knowledgeable about and/or sanctioned such work: Employee’s performance of moonlighting services during the firm’s normal work day or on the firm’s premises Moonlighting employee’s use of your firm’s: – Equipment (computers, printers, scanners, plotters) – Software (design technology, other) – Email account domain – Telephone system or company-issued mobile device – Letterhead, logo or other standard documentation What’s more, those who engage in moonlighting tend to be less seasoned employees. This lack of experience, when coupled with the lack of your firm’s normal QA/QC process, creates an environment that is ripe for a claim. Protecting Your Firm Many A/E firms affirmatively prohibit moonlighting activities by addressing it in the firm’s employee handbook and requiring employees...

Read More

By on Apr 4, 2017 in All Topics, Coverages, Newsletters, Operations |

By Mark Jackson and Erin Kelley Whether your company owns vehicles or not, chances are you have employees who use their personal vehicles for business purposes. Most design firms are aware that they need proper coverage for automobiles they own, but are less clear about potential liabilities for vehicles they do not own. When your partners, employees or interns use their personal vehicles to run errands or conduct company business, your firm faces “non-owned” auto exposure. In the event of an accident, your firm could be subject to a costly claim. Generally, your employee’s personal auto policy provides the primary insurance, even if the vehicle is used for business. However, if the damages and liability claims exceed the employee’s policy limits, then the injured party will look to your firm’s “deep pockets”. Furthermore, if your employee has a poor driving history, does not properly maintain their vehicle, or does not carry adequate insurance your company could be held liable. There are several steps you can take to protect your business and reduce significant risks to your company’s assets. 1. Purchase Hired and Non-owned Auto Coverage Any company that allows partners or employees to use their personal vehicles while acting in the scope of their employment and in the conduct of their business should have Hired and Non-owned automobile coverage. If your company owns vehicles, there should be a commercial automobile policy in place. We recommend adding Hired and Non-owned coverage if it is not already included. If your company does not own any vehicles, Hired and Non-owned coverage can also be purchased in conjunction with your General Liability. Hired coverage is for situations in which autos are not owned by the company or the driver. It is important to note that Hired and Non-owned coverage generally protects the company only, not the car or the driver. 2. Implement a Company Policy Regarding Automobile Use An effective company policy identifies who can drive on behalf of the business, defines authorized travel and the company’s position on transporting others. All employees who have permission to drive either company-owned or personal vehicles should be required to provide: • Valid Driver’s License. • Evidence of Personal Automobile Liability Insurance proving liability coverage at...

Read More

By on Feb 9, 2017 in All Topics, Newsletters, Operations |

Co-authored By Mark Jackson and Erin Johnson, JCJ Insurance Agency With advances in technology, methods of communication for design firms are quickly evolving. What would have been detailed in a formal letter, transmittal or submittal in the past is now frequently conveyed in an informal, hastily written email. Today, the overwhelming majority of our business is conducted by electronic communication. Electronic communication occurs in many forms, including emails, text messages, and voicemails. Email has become the most common way of exchanging information for design firms. It is not unreasonable to think that text messaging will soon be equally prevalent. While emails and texts are convenient, firms need to treat them like other formal means of communication. Emails and texts are fast and effective, which is a benefit in today’s face-paced environment. Not only are you able to communicate quickly but you can also include numerous individuals in the messages. With the use of mobile devices, correspondence is often casual and, if you respond while waiting for an appointment or at a jobsite, can be carelessly written. It is crucial that everyone on your team understands that in a court of law, electronic communications are legal, permanent, and discoverable. A disclaimer that “this was sent from my iPhone” does not make the document less valid. One poorly drafted email or text can have a very negative effect on the defense of a firm should a dispute arise on a project. Email When drafting an email, take time to consider what you want to communicate. An email should be no different than a formal letter in regards to the content. Before sending an email, ask yourself if you would put these exact words on the firm’s letterhead with your signature. If you hesitate, reconsider what you write. Your emails need to be prepared and suitable for presentation in any forum. An offensively written email or admission of fault can pose significant risk to the firm in the event of a dispute. A firm’s ability to defend itself for a professional liability claim is weakened when, during discovery, there are emails that are unprofessional, disrespectful, insulting, or contain an admission of fault. Emails should never include negative comments about the owner, contractor, or...

Read More

By on Jan 25, 2017 in All Topics, Newsletters, Operations |

By Audrey Camp Reprinted by permission of the National Society of Professional Engineers, 2016. Original article appeared in the March 2015 issue of PE Magazine. Carefully selected and advantageously used, your broker can be as important to the management of your practice as your accountant or your attorney. Poorly selected and ill-equipped to advise you on the risks of professional practice, your broker may add little more of value to what you do than the cost of a few postage stamps at renewal time. The choice is yours. — Dave Lakamp, founding member of a/e ProNet For design professionals, finding the right insurance broker can present a challenge. You need someone with ample experience handling the professional liability needs of architects and engineers, and who offers a wealth of value-added services. Only if your broker has a comprehensive understanding of what you and your firm are all about can he or she be of real use to you. Lacking this knowledge can leave your firm vulnerable in a shifting insurance marketplace. A good specialist broker is committed to investing the necessary time and resources to your account. They find you the best coverage for the best price, and they save you the considerable time it would take for you to do so on your own. What is professional liability insurance and why is it important? A professional liability (errors and omissions) insurance policy provides coverage to defend and indemnify a professional firm against claims alleging negligent acts, errors, or omissions in the performance of professional services. Any project can give rise to a claim. Even if your firm employs an excellent risk management strategy, it is vulnerable to being named in a lawsuit. The cost of that defense can mount fast, even if your firm wasn’t in the wrong. A professional liability policy covers the cost of defense. In the event that your firm is found negligent, and that the firm’s negligence gave rise to the claim in question, your professional liability policy will cover your firm for the damages you’re legally obligated to pay, up to the policy limit. (Note: In most cases, defense costs erode the policy limit. Having adequate limits to cover both defense and indemnity...

Read More

By on Sep 1, 2016 in All Topics, Newsletters, Operations |

By Bo Sutton, Of Counsel, GrayRobinson, P.A. and Natalie Bunnell, Summer Associate, GrayRobinson, P.A. Florida’s Public Records Act (“Act”) was recently revised to make prior amendments to the Act easier to comply with for Public Agencies, as well as those acting on their behalf. Its other purpose was to curb litigation and liability for attorneys’ fees from public information requests. For these reasons, those that may be subject to the Act should be aware of the recent amendment. To better understand the recent amendment, a brief discussion of the Act is helpful. Florida’s Constitution and the Act require records made or received in connection with the transaction of official business be made available by a Public Agency for personal inspection and copying by any person. Historically, it has been the responsibility of each Public Agency to house and provide ongoing access to its public records. However, this could change a bit with the recent amendment. There are several important questions to address with regard to the recent amendment: first is there a Public Agency involved in the contractual chain; second, is a private entity acting on behalf of the Public Agency; and third, what does the contract say about ongoing responsibility for maintaining the public records? First things first, what is a Public Agency? Florida considers a “Public Agency” to include a state, county, district, authority, municipal officer, department, division, board, bureau, commission, or other separate unit of government. However, because Public Agencies are permitted to hire “contractors” to provide services or to act on behalf of the Public Agency, contractors may also be required to comply with the Act. A “contractor” includes “an individual, partnership, corporation, or business entity that enters into a contract for services with a public agency and is acting on behalf of the public agency.” (emphasis added) Who is or is not a “contractor” in the eyes of the Act is the critical piece of the puzzle. In the design and construction world, this could include the architect, engineer, general contractor, or whomever had a direct contract with the Public Agency for a construction project if they are determined to be “acting on behalf of a public agency”. To be clear, though, providing services...

Read More