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Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

I'm not sure if this is the right forum to post in, but I didn't see a more appropriate one.
I'm a licensed PE in state A and I looked at a home for a friend in state B, where I'm not licensed. I looked at a condition that was noted in a home inspection report, purely as a friend, not functioning in a professional capacity. I agreed there were problems that needed to be addressed and, after badgering by said friend, agreed to address this in a non-permanent fashion. I performed temporary repairs myself, simply as a favor. Said friend continued to badger for additional work and it resulted in termination of the friendship, hiring a contractor to do the repairs, and then threatening me personally for having to do those repairs. Can I be held liable in this situation?

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

Check with an attorney; there is a good chance you can be. You're pretty vague about the circumstances and the work involved (added) and the problems that developed. Can you add a little more detail about what happened?

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

Performing temporary repairs could attract liability if they were carried out improperly whether done gratuitously or for compensation. If temporary repairs were carried out properly, there should be no liability, but we are not lawyers on this forum, so you should probably take Dik's advice and seek legal advice.


RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

some friend that turned out to be eh?

to quote George Costanza - "It's common sense, you gotta keep your worlds apart!"

Personal, professional, social, romantic,

because when worlds collide, they have a tendency to blow up

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

Be careful. Since you are licensed, you are always acting in a professional capacity. Doing so in another state opens you up to that state's laws...such as unlicensed practice. Since you did repairs and they were not for you personally, you might be subject to contracting laws as well!

No good deed goes unpunished.

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

I accepted no financial compensation for this. Not even gas money to drive the 3 hour round trip. I was provided with a plate of food. It's a little troubling - like the moral of the story is don't be a nice guy.

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

I'm not a lawyer, but have "argued" some of my employer's technical cases before regulatory agencies. There was no meaningful consideration (payment), so your former friend will have a hard time proving he had an enforceable contract with you. Not impossible for him to do so, but very difficult. Without an enforceable contract he should not be able to collect damages from you. He may be able to drag you into court, but doubt the case will go anywhere. Probably be thrown out. If you are sued, hire a business lawyer and ask about this.

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RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

financial remuneration has little to do with it... you are a professional.


RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

I'm not sure that you have to be currently licensed... if it can be shown to the court that you are a competent technical person, it may weigh against you. Courts are funny places... devoid of reason (off my applebox).


RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?


I think you worry too much.

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

Here is what I'm struggling with. If I am functioning in a professional capacity and I look at it, I'm required to provide my opinion and let them know it's unsafe and something needs to be done. I'm not responsible for ensuring they do it. That's their own risk whether they choose to make the necessary repairs. The idea that once you walk into a building to look at it that you now own all the problems is just not accurate. So the idea that you could be held more responsible for something in which you're not functioning in the same capacity feels off. I did not perform temporary repairs on the entire area of concern and the one I did was perfectly reasonable (very simple tension splice).

Dick - agreed, I'm a professional. But an engineer, not a contractor. I had no contract with this person and, the more I think about it, no obligation to perform any work. Simply one friend (who happens to have specific training in the area of help needed) helping out another friend.

I think I'm not going to worry too much more about it.

Thanks guys.

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

I had understood from the initial posting, that you had been asked to look at something and offer an opinion... engineer or not...

It's your call and not likely a problem, but, if the issue has been raised, I would still talk to a lawyer..


RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

Quote (Ron)

No good deed goes unpunished.

I find this especially true when I get involved in pro-bono work - to the point that I don't do pro-bono anymore

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

To the original post. Hopefully my post makes you feel better. I have four points:

First, ever heard the proverb, "if you loan a friend $20 and you never see him again, it was a good investment." If this friend really is willing to scuttle your friendship over about $1000 in consulting fees; and this is after you explain the costs to register in that state and carry insurance for it. Then it is probably best the friendship is over.

Second, for him to sue you would be difficult, and no matter how he looks at it he would lose money on lawyers fees. He would spend more on a lawyer than he would to do a proper foundation repair.

Third, if you are really concerned legally. Since you never took money nor signed a contract what you did would probably qualify under the "Good Samaritan" law if it exists in State B. The more an "emergency" or problem the foundation issue was (i.e. the more desperate your former friend was for the repair) the more you are safe under a good Samaritan law. I know ER doctors leverage this quite a bit when in an aircraft. If someone is having a heart attack on a plane, and the plane lands in the state the doctor is not registered in; it is almost impossible to sue to the doctor because they were acting incidentally under an emergency situation. I know this protects engineers that are working in a post-disaster situation (although they are also usually deputized by the building official to do emergency structural inspections).

[edit add] Fourth, if you are truly concerned turn yourself in to State B's engineering board. This is called "Coming in from the Cold." State B's licensing board is the only one that can prosecute you for practicing without a license, or get you in any real trouble. Even if you are found guilty, the fine will probably be very minor and they will keep your name confidential. I was reading through some different State's enforcement publications, and some engineers get away with extreme things. However since they turned themselves in the penalty was a slap on the wrist.

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

Delete this post, and say "prove I did it"

I would let sleeping dogs lie. If anything happens, like said above, the money to sue you is not worth it.

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

Friend or not, engineer or not, paid or not, you performed a service by providing "temporary repairs". If your "friend" can prove that you made the repairs and they were substandard, I would think that makes you liable.

RE: Liability if not functioning in professional capacity?

I really sympathize with your situation; I always feel my liability looming around like a dark cloud. You're liable for your comments and participation in your friends problem. A good lawyer could pin it to you. I doubt your friend would do that even if they are currently mad. It's a crumby part of being an engineer that the uninitiated just don't understand.

It's too late to fix this problem but, if this situation came up again. You could work out a solution and hire a local engineer to review it, then send a proper bill. A real friend would understand your position, they would also recognize that you saved them money.

Live your life like you are going to read about it on the front page the next day.

You want an enemy, lend a friend twenty bucks.

Famous last words for a structural engineer, "I was just helping out a friend".

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