The House Civil Service Committee took testimony April 12 regarding HB554 that would regulate the use of indemnity provisions in professional design contracts related to public improvements.

Rep. Seitz provided sponsor testimony on the bill, which he said would clarify the indemnity provisions in contracts entered into by professional design firms.

“The fundamental purpose of this bill is fairness. Right now, design professionals are being asked to defend public entities against third party claims before there is a determination that the design professional has committed error. The costs of such defense can be staggering and are beyond the control of the design professional. Just like the presumption of innocence, a design professional should not be presumed responsible for a cost without a determination of wrong-doing,” Seitz said.

“Moreover, this bill is entirely necessary in order to prevent the use of overbroad indemnity clauses to end-run our hard-won tort reform statutes that created a statute of repose,” he continued. “Under today’s law, an architect or engineer is not liable in tort for negligence for more than 10 years after completion of the public improvement. We made this decision — and it has been upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court — to make clear that injuries occurring later than that are due to defective maintenance, not defective design. However, when local governments use overbroad indemnity clauses, they resurrect the architect-engineer’s liability beyond the 10-year statute of repose as a matter of contract law, thus frustrating the public policy of our state.”