Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-05-2024 08:58 PM

    Should there be a engineering law course taught in school? After all we are signing legal documents.

    I would argue that we use our stamps/seal/prescription pad more than other professions yet many engineers, like myself,  were never taught what signing means and the liability it holds. I did have a ethics class which does touch on the law a bit but I think there should be another course or perhaps half a course (split it with ethics) designated to engineering law and understanding what exactly you are signing/stamping.

    Any thoughts?

    Daniel Bressler EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Brooklyn NY

  • 2.  RE: Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-06-2024 09:05 AM
    Yes very good suggestions because engineering profession related with procurement of goods , services and machines therefore laws governing agreements needs to be taught . 
    However if it comes under the jurisdiction of AASHTO.

  • 3.  RE: Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-07-2024 08:07 AM

    I feels engineering Designing field is the best, in this can research on design particular things and we can get more knowledge on this.

    Sai Krishna Nalliboina

  • 4.  RE: Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-06-2024 09:05 AM

    I taught engineering law at the masters level and ran a senior undergrad seminar splitting ethics and law kind of like you described for a few years. It's funny...I would have students argue different sides of the same coin and they would be fully convinced - on both sides - they were correct. Engineers have a strong sense of justice and when they're right...they're right....and no one can tell them otherwise.

    More to your point, In my role I'm not signing and sealing plans but I sign contracts nearly daily. We have them vetted by attorneys but sometimes attorney's are overly cautious or they take too long that it can kill a deal. Judgement is the most powerful tool an engineer can develop. I've wrestled with engineers over job site issues where they were convinced they did everything right and it SHOULD work, but yet solutions was causing downstream problems with adjacent neighbors and making the owner seem like a bad neighbor before they even moved in or they stepped on everyones toes and made onsite production more of a battle ground than a collaboration. 

    Engineering law sounds like a super dry course but it's actually super fun. 

    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Vice President of Engineering

  • 5.  RE: Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-06-2024 09:05 AM

    I am in agreement that engineers should have some exposure to engineering law and liability concepts... whether that begin in college through an elective or required credit or outside of college through some type of additional training program. I know many larger firms maintain a close relationship with lawyers or employ their own in-house to help close the gap. I have seen/been involved with several situations recently where more knowledge and familiarity with engineering law would have been helpful.

    Neil Beachy P.E., M.ASCE
    Traverse City MI

  • 6.  RE: Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-10-2024 03:23 PM

    good point, Daniel!  an essential self-reflection enabling us all to clarify this situation. 
    Perhaps, there is the possibility of risks associated with unknow things when signing/stamping attitude, than we should not supposed to be unconscious about this.. and 
    the Engineer needs address its concerns on how it could impact their life in the future. Be aware that knowledge can always be expanded into a new dimension, Andre.

    Andre Newinski S.E., M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Santo Angelo

  • 7.  RE: Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-11-2024 10:04 AM

    An Engineering Law course could be a good addition to a college curriculum, but the basics could probably be taught in 3 or 4 hours of a larger course, or in an ASCE student chapter lunch series.  

    Honestly, it's a topic you don't appreciate as much in college as you do when you are out in the working world and once you use your seal for the first time.

    Some companies offer annual seminars through their professional liability insurance provider (my former company did that) and it was very helpful and enlightening.  

    Important topics include defining your scope of services clearly and thoroughly, using proper terminology and avoiding improper terminology in technical documents and reports, and practicing only within your expertise.

    Understanding liability insurance is a topic in and of itself.  Unlike other professions (such as many medical professions) an individual engineer working for a company or agency cannot buy their own personal professional liability insurance.  Depending on state law, though,  you can be liable 'jointly or severably'; fortunately most lawsuits target the 'deep pocket' - the company, not the individual.  The insurance is typically held by the company or entity that is officially contracted to perform the work, so if you work for a company they (should) hold liability insurance.  Public entities are often self-insured.  Doing work 'on the side' without insurance - in my opinion - is a bad and risky idea.  Defending even one claim out of pocket can wipe out years of profit.  Unfortunately lawyers can draw everyone even tangentially involved with a case into a lawsuit (even those who you would think obviously shouldn't be involved) in order to depose them and get information.  Even if you are ultimately dismissed, you can spend time and money defending yourself.  Tort Reform suddenly becomes a very interesting topic that you previously knew nothing about.

    Another legal reality-check younger engineers often get is that liability often extends beyond just crunching the numbers correctly vs. incorrectly.  Contractor delay claims, safety issues, and other non-technical items are often the source of legal claims.

    Greg Thein, PE
    Cleveland, OH

  • 8.  RE: Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-11-2024 10:00 AM

    I would have appreciated it if I had a course like that. I'm currently just waiting for approval to sit for the P.E. (woo!) and I feel like I ought to hire a lawyer to review all of this stuff before I have my P.E. and start signing anything. 

    Renn Henry
    Staff Engineer

  • 9.  RE: Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-13-2024 11:54 AM

    In my experience the issue isn't so much the law but the risk. Regardless of the law the cost to defend yourself in court is where the damage happens. Most of the time it is cheaper to settle than it is to defend, regardless of how frivolous it is. You are personally liable for anything you sign and seal regardless of the business type used (based on my research).  It is key to vet your potential clients prior to doing any work, sometimes you have to walk away. Red flags are clients that require special language in contracts that favor them, slow to sign contracts, history of lawsuits, history of using low quality contractors, unrealistic time frames. The relationship with the client is key and making sure any issues that arise are resolved in a timely fashion.

    John Bolger P.E., M.ASCE
    Project Engineer
    Roxbury NY

  • 10.  RE: Engineering Law - Do you know it?

    Posted 03-15-2024 01:06 PM

    Some very useful and practical advice from John Bolger.

    • Long gone are the days when 'On Good Faith' and 'Gentleman's Agreement' used to define business deals and interactions. One still says it, but rarely means it. It is not because he or she have not developed rapport – but because people in power change, situation changes. Therefore one must protect oneself and the businesses he or she represents – against any unforeseen changes of scenarios.

    • To my knowledge, there are many institutes and universities that offer courses on ethics, laws (covering aspects such as contracts, torts and professional liabilities). Apart from that there are many website resources on those aspects – including those by liability insurance providers. In our first year engineering classes – there were introductory lessons on them. I do not know about any in ASCE, here is an ASME link to online courses – if any CEs can make use of it.

    • About inclusion of some liberal arts courses (of some sort) in engineering curricula – there have been several opinions in recent threads – as well as in past discussions.



    Dr. Dilip K Barua, Ph.D

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