“Help! I made a mistake at measuring up but only picked it up during construction! Now I have to re-document the affected joinery and instruct the builder. Should I tell my client? Who else needs to know? I am embarrassed, and would prefer to keep it quiet!”
First of all: Don’t panic! Sit down with a cup of tea, as this sort of calamity in practice warrants a good deep think coupled with a decent dose of self-soothing. We all make mistakes from time to time, being human and all, so don’t beat yourself up about it! The embarrassment and the time and energy you will need to spend rectifying the error will be ‘punishment’ enough! See it as a learning experience and tune in to your inner Self-Education Channel. 🙂
After a few deep breaths that help activate your parasympatheticus (your nervous system that combats stress), it’s time for analysis and damage control.
- What is the extent of the mistake? Will the changes required for the rectification affect…
- ..the design intent? Our hope is that the mistake is relatively minor, so it does not affect the overall ‘big picture’ of the design intent… If it does, you’ll need to think on your feet how to make a “feature of the stuff-up”, as a good architect friend of mine tends to put it…
- ..the works in progress, causing a delay to the works? You will document (but not broadcast) any delay occurring due to the error, so you can prove your version of events, should it come to blows later.
- ..the cost, causing a variation to the contract price? As per point b) any extra cost also needs to be documented, should there be any (quietly, in your own notebook).
- Are the circumstances such that the mistake exposes potential negligence on your part (another few deep breaths here..!)? If the answer is doubtful, you should call your PI insurer for advice and explain your version of events to notify of a potential future claim in this matter. This is prophylactically necessary, as the insurance will step in and take over the case, should a claim arise from this matter down the track.
- Well now, whom to tell?
- a) Tell the Builder/subbies? Well, this goes without saying. Ask them to stop work on the problematic bit immediately (and ask them to work on something else instead, if possible, so the site will not sit idle, as any delays will add to your problems!) The call here is to mitigate any further damages that you could possibly cop a claim for.
- b) Tell the client? It is honourable to always be honest. However, the contract between you and your insurer consists of you not admitting liability in case of potentially costly mistakes. The insurance only protects you where you are able to let them establish what the damages are once they (or you) receive a claim from the client. Whether to stay mum or not will be dependent on whether you are able to fix the error without any damages caused to your client. However, again, what may be perceived as no damages to you may still result in a claim, if the client has success in proving that the result was not what they had expected, causing them “damages”. So, in order to not jeopardise your PI policy protecting you from exposure, mum’s the word, unfortunately…
- c) Tell the insurer? In any case, do not delay notification of your insurer; this is done by email or a letter outlining the case in detail. Their claims department will be advising you, and will jump into action, should your client lodge a claim against you.
Rule Number One: If in doubt, always notify, no matter how small the issue. There are no negative consequences for you from doing so. The sooner you notify, the sooner the insurance’s legal team can get to work and defend you in case a claim should arise from an error. This is why we have PI insurance (apart from it being the law!) and we must do our utmost to protect our policy, by doing the right thing by our contract with our insurer. (It may be a good time now to familiarize yourself with the policy here).
I’ll leave you with a quote from an unknown sage which has kept me in reasonably good stead so far: Always hope for the best but plan for the worst! Notification is part of that Grand Plan.
From the coal face, yours truly
Disclaimer – ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ is not an advice column, it is only general comment from ArchiTeam who are not aware of your circumstances with any issue that you may have. You cannot rely on these general comments; each member must make their own decisions about any action they should take and seek independent advice of their own if they are unsure.