Conflicting laws between the federal and state governments create many unknowns for all aspects of the expanding marijuana industry—including construction and design. Although to date, there’s only one documented insurance claim in the Schinnerer program related to the design of a marijuana facility—that’s yet to be resolved—design and construction experts are assessing how the industry might be affected by the nationwide growth of growhouses.
Among them, Jeffrey Clay Ruebel—who wrote a paper on the topic for Schinnerer’s Annual Meeting of Invited Attorneys (access limited to current policyholders and brokers)—outlined design issues uniquely related to three primary facilities related to legalized marijuana businesses:
Further, Ruebel anticipates claims against design professionals (for damage to the property or the product) will rely on allegations of inadequate design involving four key areas:
Not surprisingly, the single claim Schinnerer has received involves the remodel of an existing warehouse into a grow facility with a change in tenants that resulted in changes in the growing process and changes to the layout of the facility that were not relayed to the engineer. Problems with insufficient cooling capacity resulted in a $300,000 claim to redesign and repair the HVAC system. Although liability appears favorable, the engineer had no written professional services agreement for this project, which makes the defense of any claim more difficult.
As with any new project, sound risk management is essential. This includes always having a signed professional services agreement, constantly communicating with your client, and documenting the progress of the project, including any changes, in a systematic, contemporaneous, and objective manner.
Only recently has the industry developed a consensus on the design issues for the three different types of facilities used to grow, process, and sell marijuana. The grow facility must not only maximize plant growth, but must take care to avoid contamination and damage to the building. A design professional must also consider employee safety and minimize the impact of the facilities on the public.