Avoiding Responsibility

Design professionals rely on manufacturers and suppliers for the information necessary to design a project, and to specify materials and procedures those manufacturers' products. Advertisements, specifications, and performance data distributed by manufacturers are the primary source of information used by design professionals to determine if a product will meet the requirements of any given project. This information is often supplemented by discussion with the manufacturer's technical staff, distributors, suppliers, and installers, but the written documents are about the only things that reliably can be used to justify  the way a product is used.

It is not unreasonable, then, to expect that a product advertised for a particular use is indeed suitable for that use. Consider a company that produces a group of products, and calls them wood doors. The company's literature calls them wood doors, it specifies them by standards used for wood doors, and it shows pictures of the product being used as wood doors. An architect should be comfortable choosing this product for use as a wood door; a specifier should be confident that it can be specified as such; and the owner should have no doubt that it is, indeed, a wood door, with all that implies.

If manufacturers do not stand behind their products, if they do not accept responsibility for the technical information they furnish, then the design professional, the contractor, and the owner must decide on their own what products to use and how they should be used - often with no experience on which to base their decisions.

Assuming that you agree with the previous arguments, you wouldn't use a products from a manufacturer that wanted to absolve itself of all responsibility for its products. Or would you? Consider the following statement, found in a well-known manufacturer's product binder, found in many specifiers' libraries:

It is the responsibility of both the specifier and the purchaser to determine if a product is suitable for its intended use. The designer selected by the purchaser shall be responsible for all decisions pertaining to design, detail, structural capability, attachment details, shop drawings and the like. [Company X] has prepared guidelines in the form of specifications, application details, and product sheets to facilitate the design process only. [Company X] is not liable for any errors or omissions in design, detail, structural capability, attachment details, shop drawings, or the like, whether based upon the information prepared by [Company X] or otherwise, or for any changes which purchasers, specifiers, designers, or their appointed representatives may make to [Company X]'s published comments.

Gives you a nice, warm feeling, doesn't it? There's more: Other manufacturers of similar products use similar disclaimers, and products of this type have been the subject of a lot of legal action and bad press. Without written certification of acceptance of details and specifications used for this product, why on earth would it be used?

2002 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA

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