SWG PL: Coverage for Civil Engineers

Nov 2020

Recent trends in professional liability for civil engineers show some startling shifts. Once upon a time, professional liability was limited to errors and omissions, or, negligence in the performance of an engineer assignment. But today, civil engineers are facing claims from a broader range of exposures, from job site safety to defects in reports.

Professional civil engineers provide a unique kind of service. They need a unique kind of insurance that can cover the risks that general liability insurance cannot, such as liability arising from faulty design.

“Do I Need Professional Liability Insurance?”

Civil engineers deal with complex issues involving a high level of technical ability and knowledge. The nature of their work comes with multiple opportunities to make an error or omission while working on a project, for which they could be called into court.

In addition, civil engineers involved in large projects may be pulled into a lawsuit even if no error or omission was made. In either case, they will need to defend themselves in court and pay what are often hefty sums in legal fees. In the event of a lawsuit, they will have to defend their work and could be liable for large sums of money if found to have been negligent.

The Top 5 Most Common Claims

  1. Under-design:

An example of when an engineer could be sued for under-design is if an engineer approved design changes based on abutment foundation materials used in the building of a small bridge, which resulted in the partial destruction of one abutment foundation after a heavy rainfall.

  1. Insufficient field review:

An engineer can be sued for insufficient field review if damages could have been prevented had the engineer caught the design problem in time.

For example, when changes to a civil engineer’s recommended excavation method for a damaged municipal drain resulted in drain collapse when inappropriate backfill processes were used. The engineer was sued by the municipality for insufficient field review where the backfill process could have been corrected in time to avoid damage.

  1. Boldly injury and property damage:

An example could be an engineering firm is hired to design a bridge, and a portion of that bridge collapses a few months later. The firm is found to be at fault for an error in design which led to damages to people and vehicles.

  1. Design errors:

Design errors, meaning what was designed was wrong, and omissions, meaning the engineer failed to include something in their design, can result in a lawsuit against the engineer.

For example, an engineer designing an air-handling system for a new municipal library could be sued because of design errors that led to costly repairs to that system.

  1. Other claims of negligence:

Should the engineer fall short of expectations, an unhappy client may accuse them of professional negligence or malpractice. An engineer negligence lawsuit may involve:

  • Failure to meet the standard of care
  • Breach of contract
  • Missed deadlines or cost overruns

Advice for Mitigating Liability Claims

In civil engineering, professional liability exposures are large due to the big potential for injury and death due to design flaws that result in structural failures. Imagine a bridge collapsing with cars on it.

To help prevent worst-case scenarios, engineers need to incorporate loss prevention measures into their business. This can include the following steps outlined by the American Society of Civil Engineers:

  • Ensuring design specifications are followed and inspections regularly conducted.
  • Ensuring documentation is clear and that all changes to the project are marked and signed by both the engineer and the client.
  • Examining all marketing materials and proposals to ensure they don’t promise more than what the engineer can deliver.
  • Examining standard form contracts to ensure that the engineer isn’t taking responsibility for aspects of a project that are not intended (e.g. site safety or construction methods). Also ensure that third parties are not somehow entitled to rely upon the engineer’s work.
  • Examining contracts to ensure the engineer is selling their professional time and not their reports to the client.
  • Examining field report forms and reporting format to ensure that they don’t use unclear (e.g. overly broad) language.
  • Seeking advice from their insurance broker, who can provide loss prevention resources to help their profession. (1)

South Western Group Has Tailored Coverage for Civil Engineers

Our professional liability insurance provides civil engineers with protection against damages and legal fees from claims made against engineers by reason of a negligent act, error or omission in the performance of services.

SWG Professional Liability insurance offers a packaged E&O and CGL policy that covers a wide range of classes of business. Tailored E&O coverage protects small to large firms from a broad range of risks. SWG PL is provided at competitive rates, bringing extensive knowledge and underwriting experience in professional liability.

For more information about our policy features, visit our website.

Content is current as of the date of broadcast and is subject to change without notice.


  1. https://ascelibrary.org/doi/pdf/10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2004)4%3A4(141)