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Top Three Claims Against Interior Designers

A recent report from Hanover Insurance was shared by DTL’s insurance broker Kevin Pitts at Maury, Donnelly & Parr, Inc. (who we can’t recommend highly enough!) that detailed some of the hows and whys behind the most frequent claims against interior designers.

“Interior designers are at risk for lawsuits simply by the nature of their profession,” explained Pitts. “Clients often look to the designer as the overall project manager and hold them accountable for any error committed by other trades and professions on the job.”

In addition, Pitts notes that clients can pursue claims for both objective and subjective reasons.
• Objective: This is not the sofa/lamp/table I ordered and paid for. Or: This custom-made piece does not fit/work properly.
• Subjective: This sofa/lamp/table just doesn’t look right. Or: This fabric/paint/finish look different in the sunlight.

ONE: Code violations are the number one claim against interior designers. Usually this is because the interior designer was to control and direct all of the sub-contractors to help complete the job; but the contract did not specify who was responsible for ensuring that all work complied with all local, state and federal codes.

Upon inspection, prior to occupancy or opening, if the work was found to be not up to code, claims could be filed for the additional costs to comply, plus expenses for a variety of other related issues, especially for a commercial property.

Solution: Check all local town and city, state and federal regulations and codes before work begins and pull all necessary permits. Make sure your contracts clearly specify be responsible for compliance to all codes and regulations.

TWO: COM (customer’s own materials) is the next most frequent claim, and it so widely known as problematic in the industry that many suppliers, upholsterers, workrooms, installers, etc. all have indemnification clauses when working with COM. But, it’s often not a featured clause in interior designer’s contracts with their clients.

If this is true for your contract, update it to include that any materials chosen by the client that are not guaranteed to be suitable for the project. The contract should state that the designer is unfamiliar with the client chosen materials and does not guarantee that they are adequate.

THREE: Subcontractor insurance claims are the third most frequent issue raised by unhappy clients. Make sure that the subcontractors used on the project, including any architects or engineers, are fully licensed and insured. Ideally, the interior designer should have all subcontractors indemnify and defend the designer for any claims made against errors of omissions committed by the subcontractor. It is a good idea to get proof of the insurance at the start of the project, because after there is a problem, it is too late to purchase insurance. If the subcontractor makes a mistake, the designer will want to tender any claims to the subcontractor’s insurance company.

Finally, a lot of these issues develop because an interior design project has a lot of moving pieces and change during the process. This is especially true given the current state of the supply chain.

So make sure you have signed approvals from the client if there are any alterations or deviations from the original project plan (even if the changes are minor). It is important to come to an agreement to the changes in writing before changes are made rather than having design disputes after the work is completed.