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Signing Plans

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Dennis, I saw Ernie N's post about being careful, and the replies to that. I
don't feel like joining the fray in detail. (I think my previous postings on
this are in the website archive.)

Ernie admitted candidly he didn't personally know what the story really is.
Others however are often insistent they are sure. A big nuisance to safe
small-scale practice is our fellow engineers declaring opinions on stamping
and responsibility that amount to legal interpretations, when they have no
laws or regulations to cite as backing for their opinions. Expensive legal
defenses are apt to be needed to put to rest accusations and lawsuits based
on mistaken notions of what the appearance of a stamp and signature means. 

I once became a cross-defendant in such a situation, over a single custom
home. My contractor/designer -client's insurance company tried to spook me
into paying settlement money to be released from the cross-complaint. The
client himself had no grievance with me, but he had no control as to the the
attempt of his carrier to mug me.

You can believe I researched and developed a well-harmonized explanation of
what an engineer's stamp and signature means and doesn't mean, when it
appears on a sheet of plans that bears input from others as well as from the
engineer. I cited Building Code provisions, the state Business and
Professions Code (PE Act), and customary practice in my area among
designers, engineers, and building officials in the matters in question.
Luckily I have had some prior experience as an amateur in researching and
arguing law as a lawsuit party in pro per, and I incurred no outside legal
expenses this time. In fact, I was dismissed without paying anything, and
was reimbursed over $200 for my out of pocket expenses by the law firm that
sued me.

As one reply suggested, you can always isolate the structural elements you
designed on separate sheets, but when those elements are few and scattered,
like two shear panels and a garage door header for a house, it would leave
your sheet looking like a shop drawing, and leave the plan set hard to use
by the builders. This awkwardness would give rise to a whole new basis for
complaint against you: refusal to integrate your work into the plans so as
to make them readable. 

I favor letting the engineered structural portions be commingled in with the
rest of the drawings so as to make them as user friendly as possible, and to
make clear in the calculation set (that is exclusively yours) what the scope
of your "responsible charge" undertaking really is.

As it now stands, the Calif. PE Act requires your stamp and signature to
appear on every drawing sheet that shows engineering work you are
responsible for, and the PE Act reads as though it is unaware that this work
might appear commingled with work by others so as to leave confusion over
what is whose. Before the enactment (with SEAOC's blessings) of Section
6737.1 in 1985 that expressly provided for signing for only those non-exempt
"portions" of a residential structure that needed engineering, the PE Act
alluded to signing plans as though each engineer's work was presumed to be
separated onto different sheets from anyone else's. That old signing
provision dates from early 1930's when engineering on residences was so
unheard of and unexpected that no exemption for it even appeared in the Act.
(The first exemption appeared around 1955, and exempted all residences up to
two stories and a basement, no matter what the spans or materials of

If there is a remedy to this responsibility question, it will have to come
from the legislature or maybe an appellate court decision. (The Attorney
General's office should not be asked for an Opinion --over their head.) But
since only small-timers are much affected, how is it going to come to their
attention? Not from the big firm -controlled Board of Registration, nor from
image and control-obsessed SEAOC.  (Oops, wrong list server for that.)
Speaking of the Bd.of Reg., their protracted, multi-year, comprehensive PE
Act Rewrite never attempted to clear up this confusion about signing for
portions of a sheet. The big boys aren't affected, and the little guys who
do residential jobs are disciplinary action fodder so the Board can show the
department and the legislature how good it is at "protecting the public".
Resolving this stamping confusion hardly helps those P.R. prospects. 

That highly touted PE Act Rewrite was so transparently a turf grab that the
legislature stripped out everything but three things: The words "of
Registration" are deleted from the Board's name, the word "license" is added
as an equivalent to "registration", and the Board will no longer give PE
Exams in three of the obscure "title act" PE Branches. This outcome was a
huge flop for the Board, and well deserved. Don't expect to see it
characterized that way in the Board's publications, or in SEAOC's. Too
indelicate.(oops, again)   

Have a good weekend, and don't take any wooden nickels or sign any wooden

Chuck Greenlaw, SE   Sacramento  CA