Building Information Modeling Pitched as Claims Management Tool

By Jim Sams | March 4, 2020

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — As an attorney who focuses on construction litigation, Vasko C. Alexander says he has spent a good part of his legal career inside mediation sessions where contractors, subcontractors, owners and architects blame one another for whatever went wrong.

“It’s literally like this,” Alexander said, crossing his arms with his index fingers extended. “Everybody is pointing fingers at each other.”

If only there was software available that could peel back layers of time and reveal exactly the sequence of events as a building evolved from concept to bricks and mortar.

Vasko Alexander

Actually there is. It’s called Building Information Modeling. Alexander and other experts said during a session at the Combined Claims Conference on Tuesday that claims professionals should recognize BIM as a powerful claims management tool.

BIM is a process that begins with the creation of a 3D model that enables document management, coordination and simulation from the time a project is designed through construction and during operation and maintenance. The model evolves as the various trades certify completion of each component.

Alexander displayed an animated video that shows what the model looks like: A three-dimensional hospital project grew out of barren earth starting with grading, a frame, then a serpentine network of plumbing and wiring, followed by a roof and exterior siding. Finally driveways, parking lots, streetlights, sod and landscaping popped out of the architectural rendering.

BIM’s primary purpose is to serve as a visualization tool, of sorts, so that the professionals involved in a project can more effectively communicate about any issues that crop up, said Patrick Sills, a project executive with CDG Builders in Irvine, Calif. who spoke during Tuesday’s panel discussion. He said the technology incepted in the late 1990s and became commonly used around 2010.

Sills said BIM solves the problem of the “telephone effect,” meaning the garbling of messages as professionals communicate with each other. “This is another tool to ensure that everything comes together the way that it is supposed to,” he said.

Patrick Sills

BIM is also a tool that can provide documentation that shows exactly when in the sequence of construction a misstep was made.

Alexander gave this example: Say a contractor asks for reimbursement after replacing all of the carpet in a building, saying all of it was ruined because of delays there were beyond his control caused the windows to be installed too late. BIM would allow the project manager to go back to see exactly what should have been installed on the date the subcontractor said the carpeting was ruined.

In Alexander’s imaginary example, the owner could confidently deny reimbursement because the windows weren’t supposed to be installed until after the date the contractor said the carpeting was ruined.

Alexander, who is with the Lynberg & Watkins law firm in Orange, Calif., said those type of disputes cannot always be resolved just by reviewing paperwork. “I don’t know if everybody is familiar with project documents, but they leave a lot of gaps,” he said.

Of course, BIM is only as thorough as people who enter the data. Sills said in most cases, the project manager appoints someone to run the program. That way, a single persons is in charge of documenting every change order or amendment.

Alexander said insurers have an interest in encouraging the use of BIM because the process makes dispute resolution a much simpler and quicker process, saving money in the long run. But how can insurers control what software project owners and their contractors use?

Conference panelist Bert Dizon, a senior account executive for Gallagher Bassett, said one way would be to offer discounts on premiums for projects with a building information model in place. He said it would also be helpful for claims professionals to discuss with underwriters the advantage of BIM in controlling potential litigation costs.

One member of the audience suggested that carriers enlist brokers to sell BIM as a method of controlling costs.

As of now, BIM is not living up to its potential as a litigation management tool, Alexander said.

“I have yet to see a single instance of this kind of information being requested by opposing council,” he said.

The Combined Claims Conference concludes today.

About Jim Sams

Sams is editor of the Claims Journal. He can be reached at jsams@claimsjournal.com.

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