Building information modeling — a collaborative, multi-dimensional “blueprint” well-known across the construction industry — has been popular since at least the turn of the century, but that doesn’t mean it comes without concerns for construction lawyers and their clients.
BIM’s collaborative aspect can make it difficult to discern who’s responsible for each part of the model and who should be held accountable if some of the information within is wrong. Its ease of use and vast capabilities can also mean that users rely on the models more than they should, while simultaneously underestimating the need to protect them from cyber attacks, lawyers and engineers said.
On a project using BIM, a design team may create the base model, followed by the scheduler, estimator, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers plugging in their own data, according to Clark Thiel, head of Pillsbury’s Construction Counseling & Dispute Resolution practice.
“The old model was that if there was a conflict between a piece of equipment and a structural element, the mechanical engineer and the structural engineer would have to get on the phone or in a room and work it out,” Thiel said. “Now, in that same scenario, the mechanical engineer could come along and say, ‘Oh, this column’s in my way. I’m moving it 6 inches to the left,’ and not tell anybody and now the model’s screwed up.”
Even if contracts are well-crafted, it can be helpful to consider BIM more of a tool than a project document like a traditional blueprint. That way, responsibility can be allocated as it always was, attorneys said.
If someone digs a hole in the wrong place, after all, it’s not the shovel’s fault. By the same logic, when the problematic tinkering of Thiel’s hypothetical mechanical engineer ripples through the model and project, it’s their own fault — no one else’s — Thiel said.