Drawing, Construction and Building Law
The building/ construction law is a branch of law that deals with matters relating to building construction, engineering and related fields. It is in essence an amalgam of contract law, commercial law, planning law, employment law and tort. Construction law covers a wide range of legal issues including contract, negligence, bonds and bonding, guarantees and sureties, liens and other security interests, tendering, construction claims, and related consultancy contracts. Construction law affects many participants in the construction industry, including financial institutions, surveyors, architects, builders, engineers, construction workers, and planners.
One of the most common questions that engineers-and architects-ask is whether to mark shop drawings and other submittals "approved," or whether to take some lesser action. This is an area in which legal advice has changed over the years.
Going back 15 or 20 years, it was common for lawyers to recommend that A/Es avoid the use of the word "approved" when they reviewed and accepted a shop drawing. The fear was that a judge or jury-and to a lesser extent, an arbitrator-might assume that the design professional had reviewed the shop drawing for all purposes, including field dimensions, safety issues and other matters outside the proper scope of an engineer's or architect's concern. Claimants and their lawyers focused on the word "approved" and tried to hold the design professional liable, at least in part, for issues outside the scope of its usual duties.
No exceptions taken
A common "solution" was to recommend that synonymous language be used. Often an engineer would be told to stamp the drawings with a phrase like "no exceptions taken." This and similar ambiguous phrases were intended to convey the notion that the engineer was not objecting to any aspect of the shop drawing, but had not reviewed and approved all of its various aspects.
But this tactic did not work for long. Judges, juries and especially arbitrators quickly decided that "no exceptions taken" meant "approved," and interpreted the two phrases to have identical meanings. For example, in a recent lawsuit, an architect was put on the witness stand and asked what "no exceptions taken" means. He responded that it means "approved." Consequently, it became clear that a better approach needed to be developed to prevent claimants from misconstruing the limited nature of a design professional's approval of shop drawings.
The solution has been to explicitly limit the scope of the engineer's or architect's review both in the contract and on the shop-drawing stamp itself. Although most shop-drawing stamps now include an "approved" option, this approach uses language that strictly limits the scope of the submittal review to "conformance with information given and the intent of the construction documents."
The graphic on this page depicts a typical shop-drawing stamp that explicitly explains the purposes for which the design professional is not reviewing the submittal. It is important for the stamp to exclude review for the purposes of verifying dimensions, safety analysis and the like, because these are solely the contractor's obligations. By putting this limitation in the shop-drawing stamp, no argument can be made that anyone was relying on the A/E's review and approval for those explicit purposes.