Has Computer-Aided Design Exposed Design Professionals To Greater Liability?

By: Juan Anderson, Income Member

In many respects, the design profession is no different than most other construction-­related industries. For example, the computer revolution has had a significant impact on the way in which design services are rendered and delivered. As computer-aided design (CAD) software becomes more advanced, more and more architects and engineers are relying upon their computers for calculations and tasks they once completed by hand. Coupled with a market proliferation of these software programs, the increasing reliance on computer technology raises several interesting legal issues.


As with any component of computer technology, the most important of these issues is whether an architect/engineer assumes liability for design errors that result from “glitches,” or malfunctions in the computer program, as opposed to the A/E professional’s organic mistake. Do structural engineers who rely heavily on such software expose themselves to greater liability if the program contains a flaw that results in an inaccurate calculation? The result could be a defective structure vulnerable to collapse despite the fact that the engineer did not personally make a mistake. To some degree, design standards have been artificially elevated due to the perception that widely-used software programs are error free. To combat the trend, the average, typical engineer should check all calculations by hand despite use of formulations generated by the computer.


The increasing reliance on computer-aided design raises additional questions that similarly result in the possibility of larger exposure to design professionals. Some clients now require that A/E’s produce and provide their plans on some form of electronic encoded media, such as CD’s. It is well known that the associated risks of the copying process (i.e. power surges, stray radiation, etc.) can result in errors being introduced into the plans which can corrupt the data without detection. A prudent design professional should always provide a hard copy of the plans as well and designate the hard copy as the official record of the design professional’s service.

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