On Jan. 1, 2007, architects in California can learn to stop worrying and love the public agency project.

That's the day Assembly Bill 573 goes into effect. The legislation, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September, prohibits California's local public agencies from requiring design professionals—defined as architects, landscape architects, engineers, and land surveyors—to be responsible for the negligence and errors of other parties. Design professionals' liability for their own construction defects remains unaltered.

AB 573 is the “most significant change to state law for design professionals,” says Mark Christian, director of legislative affairs at the AIA California Council. Under current law, he says, public agencies have been able to make broad indemnification a “take it or leave it” proposition for architects and other designers.

Yet architects' insurers are not obligated to cover claims resulting from the errors and omissions of others. As a result, says Christian, taking on a public agency project frequently turns into “contractual roulette,” a game that only the larger firms have been willing to play.

But the issue isn't limited to California, notes Brian Stewart, a member at South Pasadena–based law firm Collins, Collins, Muir & Stewart who represents architects and worked to get AB 573 passed. In “most states,” he says, public entities are able to force similarly one-sided indemnity agreements on architects. Now, at least in California, says Stewart, liability is a “balanced playing field.”

AB 573 was the third effort in eight years to get such legislation enacted, says Christian. Authored by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and sponsored by the Consulting Engineers Land Surveyors of California, the bill was supported by several industry groups—including the AIA California Council, the California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors, and the California Landscape Contractors Association—as well as more than 200 businesses of all sizes.