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RE: Signing Plans

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I have thought about it. I'm still convinced that you site the exception to
the rule. We all get clients from hell, there is nothing to prevent a client
from filing a suit except to try and take away the incentive. Since our
legal system is set up in such a way as to make it desirable to sue anyone
who has insurance, the majority of clients will not pursue a suit where they
need to invest out of pocket, and most lawyers won't take a case where they
won't be guaranteed some coverage for their time. Not many attorneys do
pro-bono work for homeowners.
In you example, the clients were attorney's - a tip off from the start not
to mess around with them.
The only way to reduce the risk is to be extremely careful in your work, and
to make sure you have autonomy over construction to assure that your design
is followed.
After four attempted suits as a "Cross-Complainant" in which I was dropped
because I did not have coverage, I am convinced that it is not for me. In
each case, I was not even involved with the construction defects, but was
pulled in by the Contractor to try and share the liability.
In the latest, I was sued as a defendant since I was the Chief engineer for
a company that was being sued. It was thought that I was the engineer of
record. I was dropped as a defendant because of my lack of insurance.
Instead I was subpoenaed as a witness for the defendant.
This went on for a year. Two days before my deposition, I received a set of
plans that was from the construction site. It was not my stamp on the plans.
I argued that I was not the EOR since I had not signed the plans. The
defendant claimed that the job set was for subsequent work done after my
initial retrofit design. The problem was that there were not records,
drawings or analysis to confirm that I was the original EOR.
I knew I was not. I explained to the attorney that I had left the firm in
between submittal of the plans and issuance of permit. I was neither the
designer nor the EOR. My deposition was canceled and I billed the attorney
(at his request) $1,500.00 for review as an expert witness of the
plaintiff's expert witness deposition.
This is where it gets interesting. The new owner of the building was suing
the engineering firm that retrofits this commercial building in 1987. The
new owner was converting the building to warehousing and choose an engineer
without retrofit experience. The new engineer over designed the plans and
the construction went over budget 1.3 million. The plaintiff's expert
witness supported the over-design and came up with a defect matrix for the
original design based upon provisions from published codes that were not in
effect at the time the building was designed. When questioned in his
deposition as to how the original engineer should be aware of the new code
requirements. The expert witness stated that if the original engineer had
been doing much of this work it would have been his responsibility to learn
what SEAOSC Hazardous Building Committee was working on and adopt those
guidelines even before they were published. Having been a member of this
committee at the time, I knew of the expert witness.  The issues he stated
were under debate at the time and most of them were never adopted.

Whose responsibility is it to stop an engineer acting as an expert witness
from using unscrupulous means simply to win his clients case. The problem is
that any layperson would accept his authority and experience over the design
engineer even though his argument is worth crap.

No-one is safe in this business and this is the reason for good peer review.
I stand behind my position that if you have insurance, you're a much bigger
target than if you don't.


-----Original Message-----
From:	GRileyPE(--nospam--at) [mailto:GRileyPE(--nospam--at)]
Sent:	Saturday, August 01, 1998 9:53 PM
To:	seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject:	Re: Signing Plans

Dennis, I find your "I-don't-have-insurance-so-nobody-will-sue-me-'cause-I-
got-nothing-to-take" attitude a bit naive in today's legal environment. I
recently involved as an expert witness defending a framing contractor on a
custom built home in Palos Verdes. Unfortunately for the framing contractor,
the Plaintiffs were husband and wife trial attorneys. It was their position
that they didn't care that the architect, structural engineer, soils
and framing sub-contractor were un-insured. The design professionals and
contractor had "ruined their dream home and caused their lives to become a
nightmare". (Actually these people were very good at this on their own and
didn't need the aid of design and construction professionals to screw-up
lives.) Therefore, they sued everyone and those who could not pay would be
ruined financially. They wanted either money or blood. It whole thing was
maddening and sad because these people are the "well educated leaders" of
society. With this tale of woe in mind, I would rather have the resources to
defend myself (i.e. insurance) against freaks like this than hope that they
will leave me alone because I have nothing to take (except my house).

Just something to think about,

Greg Riley PE