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RE: Signing Plans

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This goes back to something that you and I discussed in the past. Take away
the inducement to sue and it will rarely get litigated. You can never stop
an angry client from filing a suit, but he will have a hard time finding an
attorney if there is no insurance to draw from. The option is for the client
to pay his own legal expense up front.
I too have been drawn into three Cross-complainant suits - all of which I
was dropped from when it was discovered that I was uninsured.  In each case,
I did as you - researched out any possible liability I might have. It all
boiled down to an attorney who paid an engineer to agree that he had a basis
for a suit, and an attorney that wanted insurance to guarantee his fee.
Imagine how it would be if attorneys had to eat their fee's if they lose
their case.
I was recently dropped from a suit against a firm I worked for which I was
the chief engineer and thought to be the EOR of the project under question.
The company I worked for was sued for 1.5 million. I was dropped when it was
discovered I had not insurance (although they don't admit this), but was
brought in as a witness for the defense. Two days before the deposition, I
was sent the drawings in question. I took one look and called the attorney
to announce that I was not EOR since it was my bosses stamp on the set.
Although it got complicated, it turned out that the set sent to me was from
subsequent work and that the background represented a project I retrofit a
year or so before (1987). As it turned out, I was transitory and due to
health problems left the firm between submittal to plan check and issuance
of a permit three months later. Since I neither remembered the building, and
no drawing or analysis could be produced with my stamp on it (I never did
such sloppy work as was presented to me) I was dropped as a witness.
Funny thing - the expert witness for the plaintiff was Ben Schmidt, and the
expert hired by the defendant was Zeb Ficcadenti.  I spent a few hours going
over Ben Schmidt's deposition and found numerous wrong assumptions based on
Ben's very narrow field of responsibility. For example, Ben believed that if
the engineer was doing URM work in 1987 he should be aware of everything
being discussed by the then Hazardous Building Committee in reference to
unpublished opinions by that committee. How absurd since only 30 people
maximum participated in that committee (and I was one). Ben then quoted from
design methodology and codes that did not get published until two years
after the building was done.  He indicated that bolted moment connections
were not acceptable, whereas in 1987 the City of Los Angeles accepted bolted
moment connection since there was not criteria available on Cyclic testing
of bolted connections. Schmid admitted this in his Deposition - wonder if
Ficadente discovered this?
I admired Ben from the first time I heard him speak in a Division 68 seminar
in 1982. I discovered how frustrating he can be (narrow-minded) when we
served together on the Hazardous Building Committee and he on my Structural
Methods Committee. It was fun, however, to witness Ben take on John
Kariotis - made for good conversation in coming days.
I'm disappointed in members of our profession that feel obligated to search
for any loophole they can find to prove another engineer responsible. In my
example, the new owner of a previously retrofit building wanted to change
the occupancy from offices to warehouse. He hired an engineer without any
retrofit experience who designed the modification using Division 88 - a much
more restrictive code over the RGA method that was used in '87. He designed
Crosswall frames with 30 foot deep caissons in the middle of downtown LA.
If I were the engineer being sued, I'd file a counter-suit for
over-designing. The project went 1.3 million over budget and the new owner
sought out the original engineer to recoup the extra money he spent because
his engineer was not experienced in retrofit work. Ben Schmid was hired to
develop the defect matrix, but since no original plans or analysis was
available, developed their matrix based upon later code compliance.
This is a perfect example of a frivolous suit to try and limit the new
owners lack of good judgment. He would have been better off going after his
own engineer for over-designing and underestimating his construction budget.

My wife and I have a saying " You can't win for losing" . This is apropos in
this case.

-----Original Message-----
From:	Charles Greenlaw [mailto:cgreenlaw(--nospam--at)]
Sent:	Friday, July 31, 1998 3:27 PM
To:	wish(--nospam--at)
Cc:	seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject:	Signing Plans

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