Canadian Consulting Engineer

How engineers reduce the risk of a claim

April 14, 2022
By Aun Japanwala and Tasmeea Islam


Engineering projects can be complex and challenging to manage. Whether you’re designing a small storefront or a new transportation hub, the pres­sure is high, as is the potential for errors. And when errors arise, regard­less of who’s at fault, today’s society is quick to point the finger. Accusations of negligence or malpractice can cost a lot to defend against—and tarnish your reputation and credibility.

Understanding the risks

The following are the top three risks faced by engineers:

  1. A client claims you made a mistake.

According to claims data from Victor Insurance, 52% of claims are caused by design errors. With so many different measurements and models, it’s easy to slip up, no matter how careful or precise you are. When you’re juggling multiple projects, it’s near-impossible to detect every single error before submitting the final plans, even if you’re double- or triple-checking your calculations.

  1. A client accuses you of negligence.

Engineering projects rarely go smoothly. Sudden disrup­tions in performance, schedule and pricing may be un­accounted for under the existing terms of the contract. If a client isn’t aware of delays or cost overruns well in ad­vance, you might be accused of negligence or breach of professional duty.

  1. A client names you in a lawsuit.

When a budget is at stake, clients can become aggressive. Whether or not you’re at fault, they may look to pass fi­nancial responsibility onto you if an error or omission loses them money. And even if a claim is frivolous, you’ll still have to defend to clear your name.

Managing the risks

Here are some tips and tricks to help you avoid a claim:

  1. Practise good contract management.

Set clear expectations regarding the project, including the terms and conditions; the timing, delivery and termina­tion of services; and the pricing and payment schedules. Seek legal counsel if necessary. Make sure you understand your legal obligations and amend your contracts as need­ed for adequate protection.

  1. Ensure you have the contractual ability to stop working if you’re not being paid.

This is key just in case your project gets held up. Addition­ally, all invoices should state they are subject to the terms of the master agreement.

  1. Implement quality control processes.

Review your work constantly and keep a list of active clients to make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew

  1. Document everything.

Maintain a complete re­cord of all provided ser­vices and interactions. Note the date and time, all discussed topics, any issues, any recommen­dations you made and why, along with the client’s refusal, if applic­able.

  1. Be thorough.

Take photos and/or videos of any problems or errors you encounter. Always fol­low up discussions with a summary email, particularly for verbal agreements or in­structions given to other parties.

  1. Be cautious.

Don’t put your stamp of approval or sign off on anything you’re not 100% comfort­able with. You may have to explain your rea­soning to a judge if it’s called into question. Simi­larly, don’t agree to switch materials or brands of specified products unless you’ve tested them yourself and can certify such changes will have no major impact. Always document your rationale for switching and/or not switching materials.

  1. Don’t certify what you can’t see.

This is key even if a contractor tells you they’ve done something before with no issues. Do your research. Ask for third-party reports on efficacy and safety be­fore making any changes or approving anything risky.

  1. Communicate.

Keep all relevant parties informed of updates to design plans and layouts, pricing and deadlines, bylaws and government and safety protocols. Be particularly mindful of budgetary and scheduling changes or any­thing else that could drive up the project’s total cost.

  1. Strengthen your insurance coverage.

By covering your damages, including legal expenses, administrative costs and court settlements, the right insurance will mean legal action doesn’t jeopardize your business, even if the claims made against you are groundless.

  1. Consult with a risk advisor who specializes in the engineering sector.

A licensed broker will have the expertise to deliver a specialized approach that aligns with your needs and strategic objectives. Risk advisors can also help identify your exposures and adopt a proactive ap­proach to risk management.

Aun Japanwala is the engineering practice manager and Tasmeea Islam is a marketing and communications specialist for PROLINK. To learn more about your exposures and how you can protect yourself, visit


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