News Brief

Resilient Design and the Standard of Care

Designing for climate change adaptation may be prudent for legal reasons.

December 10, 2018

A GOES-16 East Geocolor satellite image of Hurricane Michael shows the storm as it approaches the Florida Panhandle.

Failing to design for climate-change-related threats—like more frequent and more severe hurricanes—could open the door to a lawsuit.

U.S. Navy. License: CC BY 2.0.
Are building professionals legally obligated to design with climate change in mind? An article by Judy Mendoza from Victor O. Schinnerer & Company suggests that the answer may be yes.

In “How Climate Change Is Changing the Standard of Care,” Mendoza, a risk management specialist, says that professionals could be held liable for negligence if they don’t pay attention to factors like sea-level rise in coastal areas. Other examples could include heavier snowfall and stronger, more frequent tornadoes in the Midwest, or greater risk of wildfires in the West. In short, building professionals should know about climate-change-related threats specific to the building project location and should at the very least discuss them with clients.

“They may need to research weather data and projections as well as climate-impact maps and models,” Mendoza writes, “and may also want to retain climate experts to determine the accuracy of climate data, including flood or storm surge maps, and regional climate vulnerability studies.”

Although it is not currently standard practice to seek out and act upon this information, that’s no excuse, she suggests. “Design professionals can … be held responsible if the harm that occurred was foreseeable. For climate change risk, the event need not have actually happened in the past for a court to find that it was foreseeable.”

Mendoza advises practitioners to be careful with contract language and not make guarantees of resilience, though. She also recommends documenting all conversations on the topic of resilience and staying current about standard design practices since “green design risks are evolving, and the law is unsettled.”

More on designing for climate change

Designing for the Next Century’s Weather

Resilient Design: Smarter Building for a Turbulent Future

Resilient Design: 7 Lessons from Early Adopters

For more information:

Schinnerer Risk Management Blog
schinnererriskmanagementblog.com

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