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RE: Ethical Responsibility?

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There have been several recent messages discussing the dilemma
of clients who ignore hazards identified by an engineer's
investigation.  This can be particularly frustrating if the
client is also a lawyer who relies on confidentiality to ignore
or conceal a serious life safety hazard.

In my opinion, this is just a business issue of proper client
management.  As legal advocates, lawyers have an ethical
obligation to maintain control of their cases, including the
scope of work and confidentially of each investigator, expert,
and consultant.  As registered professionals, we engineers have
a comparable ethical obligation to protect life, health, and
property.  In order to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts,
I include a variation of the following text within my forensic
engineering engagement letters.  The last sentence is most
relevant to this discussion:

". . . I am pleased to assist you in this matter.  I will help
you explore the relevant engineering and construction issues. 
You will advise me of the legal issues and protocols relevant to
my services.  Together we will determine the most appropriate
scope and timing of my services.  All work will be performed on
a time and expense basis, subject to the attached (my
engineering firm) rates, terms, and conditions.  (Your law firm)
will pay my invoices promptly, regardless of who ultimately pays
for my time and expenses.  All work will be performed with the
understanding that I will develop my conclusions from my own
professional judgment based on appropriate inquiry and
investigation.  Communication related to this case will be
handled through your office unless you ask me to contact other
parties directly.  However, if my investigation reveals a
serious hazard to life, health, or property, we will promptly
notify the appropriate people in order to generate immediate
corrective action."

Note the use of the word "we" in the last sentence,   Lawyers
need to look out for the best interests of their clients, and
they really don't like "loose cannon" investigators.  The "we"
implies a cooperative effort that provides the lawyer with some
control over a situation that could be legally as well as
physically dangerous.  For the lawyer, however, the "we" also
eliminates the option of ignoring or concealing a life safety
hazard.  For the engineer, on the other hand, the "we" merely
requires action that is already required by the registration
laws.  By making this explicit in the engagement letter, we
shorten the discussion that takes place when a hazard is
actually discovered.

John V. Loscheider, P.E.
Registered Civil and Structural Engineer
Licensed Private Investigator

Loscheider Engineering Company
Renton, Washington

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