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​Submittal Review – It’s Not All on the Design Professional (The Contractor has Requirements Too)

05.27.21  |  By Paula M. Gart

As attorneys representing design professionals, we want to convey an industry standard that few architects seem to be aware of or put in practice.  Many architects and engineers are surprised to learn that it is standard in construction that the project's contractor should be obligated to review and approve all submittals before conveying them to the project’s architect or designing engineer.  This industry-wide obligation is described in AIA Document General Conditions A201, Sections 3.12.5 and 3.12.6 in the most current edition - 2017.  The obligation is in the differing versions of the AIA General Conditions as well. 

Section 3.12.5 requires the contractor to review shop drawings for compliance with the Contract Documents and approve and submit them to the architect.  By the act of submitting them, the contractor warrants that it has (1) reviewed and approved the shop drawings; and (2) determined and verified materials, field measurements and field construction criteria related thereto, or will do so.

In Section 3.12.6, the contractor represents that it has checked and coordinated the information contained within the shop drawing with the requirements of the Work and of the Contract Documents.

We typically recommend that if such submittals do not exhibit a contractor's review stamp showing "approved", the architect or engineer should return them to the contractor.  The contractor's review is to make sure that all contract requirements are being met since the contractor is in a much better position than the architect or designing engineer to make determinations relating to physical field conditions.  This is in addition to assuring that realistic field conditions and dimensions are reflected.  In projects where the architect is not retaining the engineering consultants, the submittals provided to the architect for review should only be for the project’s architectural elements.   

Because the project’s architect and designing engineers cannot be certain that the contractor will be bound by the requirements of the AIA’s General Conditions, and to avoid referencing a document that may not be part of the project’s contract documents, we recommend that these requirements are provided to contractors in the form of General Notes in the architect’s or engineer’s design documents.  The recommended provisions, written for the project’s architect, are below, with the italicized phrase to be included if the engineering consultants are not retained by the architect.  The project’s designing engineers should revise the provisions to require submission to them accordingly. 
  
"The Contractor shall review for compliance with the Contract Documents and approve and submit to the Architect all shop drawings, product data, samples and similar submittals required by the Contract Documents (for the architectural elements of the Work) promptly and in sequence as to cause no delay in the Work.  Submittals which are not marked as reviewed for compliance with the Contract Documents and approved by the Contractor will be returned by the Architect without action."

"By approval and submittal of such shop drawings, product data, samples and similar submittals to the Architect, the Contractor represents that it has determined and verified materials, field measurements and field construction criteria related thereto and has checked and coordinated the information contained therein with the requirements of the Work and the Contract Documents."

In projects where there is a Construction Manager, a contractor's review and approval of shop drawings should be for submission to the Construction Manager.  In those projects, the General Notes used could be those below.

"The Contractor shall review for compliance with the Contract Documents and approve and submit to the Construction Manager all shop drawings, product data, samples and similar submittals required by the Contract Documents in accordance with the schedule and sequence approved by the Construction Manager.  The Contractor shall cooperate with the Construction Manager in coordination of its submittals with similar submittals submitted by other contractors."

"By approval and submittal of shop drawings, product data, samples and similar submittals to the Construction Manager, the Contractor represents that it has determined and verified materials, field measurements and field construction criteria related thereto and has checked and coordinated the information contained therein with the requirements of the Work and the Contract Documents."

Further, since a serious concern of all design professionals is the possibility of inadvertently approving hidden errors or unidentified revisions in shop drawings, many architects and engineers rely on these types of provisions to require the contractor to disclose all deviations from the Contract Documents.  In this regard, the AIA relieves the contractor of responsibility for deviations from requirements only if the contractor specifically informs the architect of the deviations in writing, and the architect has given specific approval of the deviation in writing.  Design professionals may wish to consider these General Notes as well:

"The Contractor shall not be relieved of responsibility for deviations from Contract Documents requirements by the Architect's approval of shop drawings or other submittals unless the Contractor has specifically informed the Architect in writing of such deviation at the time of the submittal and such deviation has been approved in writing.  The Contractor shall not be relieved of responsibility for errors or omissions in such submittals by the Architect's approval thereof."

"The Contractor shall direct specific attention in writing on shop drawings and similar submittals to revisions other than those requested by the Architect on previous submittals.  In the absence of the Contractor's written notice, the Architect's approval of a resubmission shall not apply to such revisions."

In addition to the foregoing, the project’s design professionals should take no action on, and return,  the submittals provided to them by contractors that were not specified in the Contract Documents by them or their consultants.  As recommended in The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice – Fifteenth Edition: “Do not review submittals that are the responsibility of other design professionals and return submittals without review when they are not required by the contract documents”.  This is sound advice that design professionals may be well served to adhere to.

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