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When can personal project files be trashed?

When can personal project files be trashed?

When can personal project files be trashed?

I would like some comments on when, if ever, we can throw away personal project files.

I'm an empty nester and am looking at downsizing my home to my eventual retirement house.

* Equivalent of approximately 16 two drawer file cabinets of personal project files in my basement.

* Latest projects are now 11 years old, with others dating back to 25 years old.  No hint of any problems with any of these projects.

* All files are projects I was the EOR and drawings were stamped with my PE seal.  All work is structural engineering.

* Files include general correspondence, field notes, calculations, hand sketches, and miscellaneous other stuff.  Files do not generally contain drawings or specifications.

* Former firm kept a project file that contained general correspondence, meeting minutes, drawings, and specifications, but NOT calculations and other items of personal work.

* Former firm is just a "shadow" of it former self.  And has relocated it's office at least two times since I left.  It is unknown if their project files were kept.  They are in a different state, and I have lost touch with them.

* Work was primarily done in the SE United States, but some is nationwide.

* Work is from the mundane (say for example, a concrete driveway for a residence) to sophisticated and complicated design of multimillon dollar projects for Fortune 500 companies.

I do plan on "cherry picking" some of the calculations as they have too much blood and sweat on the pages.  And even though my grown kids could care less, maybe a future grandchild would like them some day.

Is there a statute of limitation, where my liability drops to almost nothing?  Do different states vary in this respect?  Or do I just cull as much as possible, and buy a storage shed out back to store this material?

Thanks in advance for your comments.

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

In South Carolina the engineer of record is "on the hook" for 14 years (based on my memory). I'm not familiar with other state's requirements - suggest you check with the appropriate state licensing boards.

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?


Interesting you mention South Carolina.  The firm I worked for was in Greenville, SC.  But I no longer live there.  

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

Not sure of the statute of limitations, but you might consider donating the files to the local historical societies where the projects were located. They would most likely be more than grateful for them and would allow you to access them if the need arises.

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

I raised the same question to a professional liability insurance agent.   I didn't get a good answer on how long to keep files, but he did suggest going through the files and eliminating all but the most relevant calculations and notes that reflect on the engineer and the company in the best light.   Get rid of anything that could be used against you in any way, even out of context.

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

I thought the USA "national" statute of limitations was 7 years, but perhaps it is governed by the state and may vary.  I would contact an attorney first to see what the statute is in your state....older files beyond that date could then be discarded.  

Alternatively, you could contact local engineering firms to see if they have any interest....in some cases, these documents (especially for your "Cherry" jobs) might be of value to a firm as it is a legitimate resource for future work for those Fortune 500 companies.  

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

Were you an employee of the firm when you did those calculations, etc.?

If so, wouldn't your personal liability for anything in connection with those jobs be covered by the firm's insurance at the time?

And if that's the case, I'd be tempted to just ship all the stuff to the firm and be done with it.  And if they want to trash it, figure that's their problem.  Just keep the receipts to show you shipped it to them.

Or, perhaps just send notice to the firm that if they wish to keep the files for insurance purposes, they may pick them up, otherwise, to be destroyed.

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

In Florida engineers are required to keep records for at least three years.

I have some offices go paperless by scanning and storing their files on magnetic media. Of course like anything else, this has pros and cons. I do not have the time to list all of them.



RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

The statute of repose for engineering files varies with the state.  As Lutfi said, Florida is 3 years.  Georgia is 8 years.  Check both the State Engineering Board and business practice statutes to get the answer.

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

From legal stand point, if the work was done while working for a firm, the work is really their property. What are you doing with it? Are these are simply copies?

I once was served with Subpoena Deuces Tecum. It means bring all paper work that is relevant with you. My attorney told me even if I have copies, I should not bring them because I may be held liable for taking work that belongs to others with me.

More stuff for us to think about. I would ask permission from my employer if I wanted to take copies.



RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

Lutfi...good points.  I think perhaps though that your attorney was misleading you a bit.  If you take a project file to a deposition in response to a Subpoena Duces Tecum, you are serving as a representative of that firm and the work they did on that project, yours or others.  While you might prefer to defer answering questions about other people's work, the file is there to represent the project and your are there to represent the firm and its work on the project (and make sure that distinction is clear, since in some states the engineer can be sued directly in addition to the firm).

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

I do believe that a normal prof liability is 7 years from the date of the found deficiency. A book covering the topic "Law for Professional Engineers" explained that a problem found at any time plus 7 years can be brought to court. The question is "As a professional, what is the anticipated design life of the structures you have worked on?" This should give you an idea when the files can be discarded. We have files from the 1960's in our basement and I tell you they seem to be under a huge mound of dust! For most homes, the design life is approximately 50 years.

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?


Your statement can't be correct, if it were liability would have no end, since a defect found 10 years after construction would extend liability another 7 years.  I believe JAE is right, professional liablity is governed by each state and is on the order of 7 years.

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

I completed a law course for professionals and this is how the courts are handling these types of cases... this does change from state to state and province to province but check with your local association....

Think about the term professional liability. A house should have no problems for a shorter period of time when compared to a large building or a bridge. A building or a bridge should have no problems for a shorter period of time compared to a hydroelectric structure. It depends on what the client has paid for, the design life of the structure, materials used for constuction, regular maintence... If a person finds major problems with his house after 8 years of ownership, should this person persue the designer or constructor? How about 9 years? A number of firms are now spelling out the terms of guarentee such as 10% of design costs or the firm will review and correct the drawings. It all comes down to the contract and how professional liabilty is handled! (Remember the courts usually rule towards the person with the smallest pockets not the large/medium firm!)

RE: When can personal project files be trashed?

Does anyone know how long engineering documents and associated project records must be saved in Pennsylvania?

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