Administrators and the Responsible Conduct of Research
Collaborative Research:
Liability Issues

Business and Financial Issues (cont.)

Liability for damages associated with a research project is a concern of institutions executing agreements related to collaborations. It would not be possible to list all the instances in which liability may arise, but we can address some of them that have a reasonable potential of occurring. Lawsuits or financial claims can arise from negligence or other wrong-doing that may occur in the performance of the project work. We usually think of these damages as being related to personal injury or damage to equipment and/or facilities.

Liability, however, can also result from research misconduct that results in invalidated research findings. Other forms of misconduct can destroy a collaboration as well, such as alleged plagiarism by one collaborator of another’s work. Finally, violations of the terms of MTAs and other written agreements can be regarded as a serious breach and can result in lawsuits or financial claims. If a collaborator, for instance, has agreed not to distribute a given material to others but does so anyway, and the third party suffers some harm in the use of the material, the researcher that violated the agreement and his/her institution could be liable for damages and could be sued by both the owner of the material as well as the third party to whom the material was inappropriately transferred.

These are a few examples of the kinds of liability that can arise in collaborative research projects. They illustrate, however, why institutions and collaborating researchers must take these issues seriously. In our litigious society, doing otherwise is an invitation to lawsuits and financial penalties. The incurrence of liabilities can also place the existence of collaborations in jeopardy.
Below are a few examples of inappropriate actions that might  occur when collaborators either do not understand applicable policies and regulations, or when they decide to take shortcuts that are inconsistent with good administrative practice.

All of these situations constitute poor administrative practices and/or are actions that could subject Institution A to negative audit findings. They may make perfect sense in the eyes of the collaborating researchers since they enable the researchers to complete what needs to be done. However, by avoiding or evading applicable policies and regulations, the collaborators are putting their institutions and themselves in a very risky position.


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