Building Information Modeling and the Civil Engineer: Save Before Upload

Building Information Modeling and the Civil Engineer:
Save Before Upload

Arizona Society of Civil Engineers Newsletter, April 2009
By Roger Owers, Ph.D., P.E., J.D.

Cyrus stirred some cream into his coffee and looked at his lawyer.  “Lynda, help me.  The project owner wants me to sign a design contract in which I am to provide Building Information Modeling for a new office building.  I’ve never done a ‘BIM’ project before.”

“Not to worry Cyrus,” Lynda said, carefully sipping her fresh coffee.  “I think I can help.  Now what exactly are you being asked to do?”

“Well, for starters, the architect, the general contractor, and I (the civil engineer) are being asked to develop and maintain a BIM database model.  We are supposed to input all design and construction processes and elements into the model.  We also have to update the BIM model throughout the life of the project.”

“Indeed,” said Lynda, “that certainly does raise some legal issues.”

“I was afraid you would say that,” Cyrus replied.  “But that’s not all.  While one of the key purposes of the BIM model is to identify and prevent construction field conflicts, the model is also to include cost and time components that will be used to manage the project’s design and construction budgets and schedules.”

Lynda thought for a moment as she took in the wonderful smells of the coffee house and surveyed the long line of customers eager to order their coffee concoctions.  “There are at least three types of legal issues we will have to address in this BIM contract,” she said.

“I’m listening,” urged Cyrus.

“First, risk shifting,” said Lynda.  “We don’t want to interfere with the traditional roles and responsibilities of the project participants.  We want the BIM contract language to say that the parties retain their traditional roles.”

“I understand,” replied Cyrus.  “Like the engineer retains sole responsibility for the design of the project while the contractor retains sole responsibility for the means and methods of construction?”

“Precisely.”  Lynda continued: “Second, intellectual property.  We want to protect the copyright and licensing rights of the parties while simultaneously allowing use of the intellectual property for the intended purposes of the BIM.”

“Examples, please,” stated Cyrus, as the coffee grinder whirred noisily in the background.

“Sure,” replied Lynda.  “We’ll want to make sure that each party to the BIM agreement grants to every other party the right to use the BIM model for certain limited purposes of the project.  We’ll also want to hold the subconsultants and subcontractors to at least those same standards.”

“I’m with you,” Cyrus agreed as he took another sip of his coffee.  “What else?”

“The third issue we will want to address is information management of the BIM model,” said Lynda.  “We will need to address who has access to the database, how the information is to be shared, how the information is to be protected, who owns the information, and who is responsible for mistakes in the information.”

“This makes sense,” said Cyrus.  “The BIM model should not intimidate me as a civil engineer.  But, I need to think through these things and come to an agreement with the other participants of this new office building project.”

“Exactly,” agreed Lynda.  “There certainly are other issues that you’ll need to address as well, but these are three of the big ones.”

“Well,” said Cyrus, “BIM is here to stay and you’ve given me a great start in preparing for it.”  All this for the price of a cup of coffee?”

This article is intended for general information only.  It should not be construed as legal advice with respect to any particular situation.  Readers should not act upon information contained in this article without first consulting their lawyer.

Roger S. Owers is a commercial real estate professional with Keyser LLC and is a lawyer with the Kaibab Law Offices of Roger S. Owers LLC.  Roger holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering, is a registered professional civil engineer, holds a real estate license, and is a licensed attorney.  He can be reached via e-mail at or  He can also be found on LinkedIn at


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