Architectural Record reports that XL Insurance recently settled a messy case arising out of the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) to design and construct a life sciences building at a major university. XL representatives would not name the parties involved but commented on the dispute to make people aware of the risks of BIM.
The dispute centers on the lack of communication between the designers of the BIM model and the subcontractors actually responsible for performing the work – in this case the MEP contractor. The BIM model’s tolerances for spacing in the plenum were very tight but the nature of the restriction was not communicated properly to the MEP contractor. After the mechanicals were about 70% complete using normal sequencing, it dawned on everyone that they were out of space. Apparently, the design team did not communicate to the contractor that the very tight tolerances could only be achieved through a specific sequencing.
The contractor sued the owner, the owner sued the architect, XL provides insurance to the design industry and so it brought in the MEP contractor.
Too Complicated for a Jury?
The article reports that the resolution of the dispute was expensive and it had to be done by negotiation. Why?
XL did not litigate the claim because it would be difficult for any jury to comprehend.
Weak Links in the BIM Chain
There are two weak links holding back wider adoption of BIM, the technical sophistication of the subcontractors and contracts that fail to spell out duties and liabilities. This case highlights both risks.
It is somewhat surprising that the coordination involved MEP. MEP contractors have been using proprietary forms of 3D models to locate their work for years. It would seem that they would be among the most experienced and sophisticated end-users of BIM. Many in the industry acknowledge that the technical sophistication of subcontractors is a weak link.
The fact that the case required litigation before the parties could sit down and work out the resolution, points to a failure of the contract documents. It would seem reasonable to require any unusual sequencing to be noted in the BIM model. After all, subcontractors know enough to read the “Notes” portion of the drawings. Had the architect simply noted: “MEP sequencing critical to achievement of tolerances in plenum,” this dispute would have been avoided.