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Re: Limit of Liability

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TO: seaoc

A law professor at the University of Maryland expressed his willingness to 
trade legal opinion for technical information through web site last 
December.  Shall we send him the "liability" questions to him to get his 

               Prof. Vincent M. Brannigan
               University of Maryland
               College Park MD 20742
               Phone: 301-405-6667
               or 302 667-1410

From: null
To: seaoc
Subject: Re: Limit of Liability
Date: Sunday, January 26, 1997 1:39PM

These have been interesting comments. I am one of those engineers that do
not have, nor can I afford to carry liability insurance. For that matter,
only one or two other engineers in the valley (Coachella) have insurance.
My clients are fully aware of the limits of liability and agree to it. The
agree because they know that they will have to pay a much higher fee to
contract with another engineer who has the insurance.
Jeff Smiths comments about those that refrain from suing if the engineer is
not covered is somewhat true but scarry none the less.
I have been threatend by only one law suit. The owner was suing the testing
lab for errors and ommisions on a URM building where the lab reported no
reinforcing steel and even did a pachometer test to substantiate their
report. The testing lab then name the contractor and me (engineer of
record) into the response claiming that we should share in the liability.
The lawyer representing the testing lab hired an engineer who substantiated
the claim that the engineer of record was also responsible (although I
don't see how since I had been using this labs results to base my design
on). Unreasonable, yes but there are some engineers out there willing to
state that the claim is not frivolous for a fee - and we are involved
whether like it or not.
The legal fee's that I was quoted to defend myself would have required a
second mortgage. I was told that even my personal assets (home and cars)
would not be exempted from my liability. To make matters worse, when I
worked on this project I was a chapter 'S' corporation which meant that I
could not defend myself in court but needed to hire representation.
I was actually lucky in this matter. I let each party know that I had no
assets worth liquidating, my home was mortagaged to the hilt with little
equity and there was very little in the bank.
I went to the labs attorney to argue my point, but was told that it was
nothing personal and that this was standard proceedure to spread the
liability and possibly I would be droped from the claim after havng my say
in court. It's so easy to destroy someone and this attorney did not care in
the least.
Finally, I refused to hire an attorney, I called the lab and threatened to
expose them to the engineering community for this. I also contact SEAOSC
ethic's committee to get advise to see if I was without blame in this
matter. My willingness to talk openly to all parties involved, get my
threat across to the lab owner and essentially continue to raise hell got
me dropped from the suit. The lab ended up paying for all damages through
their insurance company.
My point - even if I had liability insurance it would only have been easier
for them to collect on a friviolous claim. I think Jeff was correct and
they backed off because I had nothing to throw into the community pot.
The insurance companies are getting screwed by frivolous claims and the
insurance companies are screwing clients with ligitimate claims.
Before I leave, I heard this week of a law firm in the Palm Springs area
that are going from Condominium Complex to the next convincing the board of
directors that there are construction defects in their buildings. They are
promising a large settlement. In each case they hired engineers and
contractors to expose the structural system of the building, documented
each mistake and took the contractor to court.
Money was collected - enough to make the lawyers happy, but not enough to
repair the building - leaving a condo board that now must disclose these
problems to all future buyers.

How's that for a new market?

Dennis Wish PE