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Liability in email communication

Liability in email communication

Liability in email communication

I'm a registered PE and am working for a design build contractor in a specialized construction field. All of our work is stamped by outside engineers that we hire or by the Engineer of Record on each project but I am on board to help with sales (and lend additional credibility) and make the design process more efficient as we communicate with other engineers/architects.

The question I have is this. In my email communication, does it create a notable difference in our liability if I list my engineering credentials or not? I want the credibility that my PE status lends but I don't want to put myself and the company in a trap.

RE: Liability in email communication

Your credentials don't matter in terms of liability in my view (assuming you aren't posturing as a PE in a state where you are not licensed).

What matters more is the content of the email - if you are directing others in a way that would be construed as practicing engineering, then your firm is providing engineering services and any resulting actions that respond to your email, and result in some kind of loss, failure, damage, etc. could result in professional liability.

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RE: Liability in email communication

so the way I interpret JAE's comment is that if your client or possibly an engineer with the AHJ are registered professionals, and they are "directing you" to make certain design decisions, than could they be construed to be practicing engineering? I bring this up because our state recently changed it's rules by adding the following rule for documents which must be stamped:

"Public Works projects which require the signature of each professional involved in the project"

I am just trying to figure out who is considered to be "involved"

RE: Liability in email communication

I would say listing your credentials doesn't matter. You either are or are not an engineer. If you are, then you are generally held to a higher standard than someone who is not an engineer making the same statement. Fair, no; but still generally true.

Mike Lambert

RE: Liability in email communication

Thanks for your input!!

RE: Liability in email communication

Doesn't the person ,who knows what they are doing, want all important communications documented? Personally, I want everything documented. People make flippant decisions if they are not forced to put it on record.

If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.

RE: Liability in email communication

If you are licensed, you carry liability with every engineering related function you perform. You can't disclaim negligence, and if there is an issue presented for your review and you don't review or do an inadequate review,...that is likely negligence.

RE: Liability in email communication

Listing a bunch of initials after your name for various certifications, degrees, etc.- not too meaningful, and can come across as pretentious.
However, listing "PE" after your name may be required by your board rules.

RE: Liability in email communication

Being licensed doesn't add any additional liability to your communications, you and your employer are liable regardless.

RE: Liability in email communication

I'm tempted to think that as a PE, you're almost obligated to put in PE designation, just as fair warning to those you communicate with that you have certain obligations to the license that would require you report things that could otherwise remain private. Kind of like lawyers being "officers of the court" regardless of whether you're defense or prosecution.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
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RE: Liability in email communication

Thank you again for your insights. The nature of the question goes to the obvious differences that already exist between a stamped drawing or an engineer speaking an opinion on a project they haven't been hired for and have limited knowledge of.

It also relates to the ways in which things play out legally. Some lawyers do some pretty nasty mudslinging and regardless of how innocent or cursory an interaction is. They may try to attach more liability than would have been reasonable in situ just because they have the benefit of hindsight and because they are willing to accuse everyone in order to see what sticks.

I recognize the obligations that are inherent with the license to protect the public and do my own due diligence (which I do not intend to shirk).

So, here is a clarifying question given the input so far.

To what degree does identifying my PE status, in an email communication, act in a similar way a stamp does in placing my certification (and implied responsibility) on the communication from an engineering viewpoint?

RE: Liability in email communication

Seems like you are asking the same, original, question in simply a new way.

Whether you identify yourself as a licensed engineer, whether you stamp something, whether you use "PE" after your name, etc. doesn't directly add to liability.

If you are a licensed engineer, and you provide "engineering services" as defined by the US state in which you are acting, then you will have some level of engineering liability in the sense that you have provided an opinion, email, or statement to someone who might act on that statement.

If your statements, emails, etc. are not strictly "engineering services" then the liability may be less, or much less....however - remembering that anyone can sue anyone regardless.

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RE: Liability in email communication

go back and read JAE's first post. I think that fully answers your question. your signature line on an email does little more than identify who you are and has no effect on the amount of liability you might have

RE: Liability in email communication

I might add a more direct response to your question - does a "PE" after your name perform the same function as a stamp on a drawing?
I would say no - different things entirely.

In terms of adding or minimizing liability, neither a PE or a stamp changes anything. Both are simply identifiers as to conditions of fact:
1. The PE simply identifies you as a licensed engineer.
2. The stamp simply identifies you as the engineer-of-record of a particular engineering effort.

Most US states allow one the privilege, but not the obligation, to put PE after your name.
Most US states, and local jurisdictions, require one to stamp engineering documents.

I think I can read-between-the-lines in your question - you are worried that if you make various statements, coordinate various activities, ask others (direct others) to perform certain engineering-related actions, etc. can you minimize or eliminate engineering liability if you hide your PE status on your signatures.

I think it makes no difference. If something ever got to a lawsuit, having your PE shown or not would be moot.

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RE: Liability in email communication

Thank you JAE. That insight is great.
You did read my mind there.

RE: Liability in email communication

I think the OP is asking the opposite question, whether what the OP puts into an email becomes effectively stamped by adding "PE" to their signature.

But, I agree it's probably moot, if there's a lawsuit. The admonition here, therefore, is to not opine, in an engineering sense, without doing your due diligence, and avoid offering answers that fall into the bucket of, "I think that could work...," or "It could possibly work..."

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Liability in email communication

In Queensland, Australia, the relevant authority has written a number of position papers regarding this sort of issue. There is no requirement in Qld to indicate RPEQ (as an equivalent of PE) in any correspondence, but the relevant person must be registered to carry out engineering works.

The summary of the position papers is that offering an opinion could at times be construed to carrying out an engineering service and therefore require registration, which is the same as what IRstuff is saying. There is no difference in noting engineering registration in the correspondence or not, as far as the relevant authority is concerned.

Obviously the exact legal details may be different, but I'd expect that you'd need to be careful in terms of the content of the correspondence so that you're not being seen to either offer engineering advice or to direct the outsourced engineering service if that is not within the scope of your task. Having PE on the signature shouldn't change this.

There is, of course, the possible perception issue that since you're indicating that you're a PE, that you're providing a level of oversight of the outsourced engineering services beyond what you're offering, simply by implying the experience of a PE.

EDMS Australia

RE: Liability in email communication

You said a lot of your work is stamped by outside engineers. If I understand what you meant by that correctly then I think that would be prohibited in most states, i.e. stamping work you did not directly supervise. If you’re worried about liability, that would be something to look into.

RE: Liability in email communication

Thanks wroggent
I misspoke. I meant to say that the work we install is independently calculated and or designed by outside PE's. My company helps to set up a system based on our experience and construction needs but the engineering checks and calculations are performed by others. Either way, I am new to the job and will watch out for unethical situations like you described, we don't want rubber stamping for sure.

RE: Liability in email communication

Does your firm carry E&O insurance that lists you, explicit or implied, as covered? If not, unless they’re self insured, you’re hanging your neck out there. If you’re not covered you’re on the hook for any goofs, real or perceived.

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