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Guilty Until Proven Innocent:
Claims Defense Documentation

By Jim Atkins, FAIA

Documentation is the crucible by which the accused design professional’s fate is tested and determined in the courts. Accordingly, project documentation must be timely and accurately created and retained in order to do its job for the defense. This paper begins with the five basic ground rules for documentation and for meetings, the primary vehicle in which information is exchanged. The rules, when followed, can place the architect in beneficial control of written project history. The next step is to know what documentation is required of the owner, contractor and architect during the course of the project, and administer accordingly by following the checklists provided at the end of each section. Knowing what NOT to put in writing can be as important as accurate and meaningful documentation. The paper concludes with a discussion of documents retention and retrieval and the purpose and benefits of reliable archive management. Follow these suggestions and be ready to prove yourself innocent the next time a presumption of guilt is made.


James B. Atkins, FAIA has over 30 years’ experience as a Principal/Owner in a top ten international A/E firm. He served on the AIA Documents, Risk Management, International Practice and Architect’s Handbook committees as well as the AIA Trust. Jim speaks and writes extensively, and his specialty is the architect’s standard of care. He provides litigation support services through his firm, Atkins Consulting Solutions, www.atkinscs.com.

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