When the Civil Engineer wears the Hero’s Cape (book review)

“It’s one thing to erroneously tell someone to drive through a lake.  It’s quite another to drive someone through a lake.”  So explains fictional Civil Engineer Jake Bendel when discussing the need for complete accuracy in a fully automated highway system in the “civil engineer thriller” Civil Terror:  Gridlock by J. Luke Bennecke.  Civil Terror

In Gridlock, Bennecke, a civil engineer in real life, describes a near-future in which traffic accidents and heavy commutes are a thing of the past, thanks to a “100% accurate” roadway system of self-driving cars which utilize GPS, cell-phone pings, and a loosely-described “proprietary system” of tracking signals.

Things are going along well until a terrorist devises a scheme to kill thousands of commuters by subverting the computer code and causing massive traffic accidents all up and down the California highway system.  Thanks to planted evidence by the terrorist, the FBI suspects Jake and not the true villain.  What follows is a fun crime-thriller-esque novel in which Jake proves to be the unlikely hero.

In the novel, Bennecke explores the realities of a fully-automated traffic system (versus the current one-car-at-a-time system), and the tremendous benefits that could result.  It is also a fun read, especially for civil engineers and those that love them.  As fictional Jake in the novel points out, “[N]obody wants to read a technical thesis about the gritty details of fully automating cars and trucks on freeways…. Unless they were having a hard time going to sleep, ‘cause that would certainly do the trick.”  Instead, Jake in the novel, and Bennecke in real life, pens a novel where the civil engineer gets to wear the hero’s cape, vanquish the bad guy, and save the day.

This book is not an in-depth discussion of the engineering, legal, and insurance implications of self-driving cars.  Instead, it is a fun, quick read where the engineering concept is simply one of many plot points.  Even so, this might be novel as a gift for the favorite civil engineer in your own life!  (after all, Mother’s/Father’s Day is coming!!]

Have you thought about fully-automated highway systems?  See the promise/problems?  Share in the comment section.

[Editor’s note:  I received a review copy of this book for consideration, but will not receive any benefit if you purchase it].

Certificates of Merit for NC lawsuits against engineers and architects? (still no)(law note)

Certificates of Merit  are documents intended to show that a true issue exists with a professional’s work, prior to that person being sued.  While North Carolina does require that a person suing a medical provider first have the matter reviewed by a professional (and attest to that in the Complaint), there is no requirement for any review prior to a lawsuit against an architect, engineer, or surveyor.  Thus, anyone can file a lawsuit against an engineer/architect/surveyor without first having their case eyeballed reviewed by another professional. magnifying glass

Over the years, there have been attempts at adding a Certificate of Merit requirement to design professional lawsuits.  See, for example, examples here: from 2005; from 2007from 2011; and from 2013.

While many states do have Certificates of Merit for lawsuits against licensed design professionals, North Carolina, to date, does not.  This is a shame, because having a professional review a potential error *before* a party spends the time and money to file a lawsuit, can only help eliminate frivolous, merit-less claims.   To win a lawsuit against a design professional, a party will need to have an expert testify that they were negligent.  The Certificate of Merit just ensures that there truly is a valid dispute before a design professional’s name and reputation get pulled into expensive, perhaps unnecessary, litigation.

Would a requirement for a Certificate of Merit eliminate unnecessary claims?  Perhaps not.  But, it gives all parties an honest “first look” at the alleged design errors before the lawyers sharpen their claws begin filing their lawsuits.

Share your thoughts on such certificates in the comments, below.

 

Design Professionals’ Stamping & Sealing Obligations (50 state survey) (law note)

Stamping Ground KYDo you sometimes wonder if you are meeting your stamping & sealing obligations in each state where you practice engineering or architecture?

Ever find yourself with some questions about how another jurisdiction handles design professional issues?

Wish you could find these answers in a reliable resource and know that it was solid information?

The lawyers have your back!  Check out the first ever 50‐State Survey of Licensed Design Professionals’ Stamping and Sealing Obligations (pdf; large document; give it some time to load)  by the American Bar Association Forum on Construction Law.

The survey is alphabetical, but for easy reference, here are some page numbers for the Southeastern States* to get you started:

  • North Carolina          starting at page 124
  • South Carolina          starting at page 154
  • Georgia                      starting at page 36
  • Florida                        starting at page 30
  • Virginia                       starting at page 176

Download or save this link, and the next time you have a quick question about the various licensing boards, regulations, rules, and procedures,  you can save yourself some time.

* FYI, my law firm has licensed attorneys in each of these Southeastern States, in case you should have further questions.

And, as always, drop me a line with any of your pesky construction law related questions, comments, complaints, etc.

Photo: (c) Coal town guy at English Wikipedia via CC

Agree to use your “professional best” ? You may lose insurance coverage! (law note)

mistakesYesterday, I was part of a panel at the NC Bar Association Construction Law Winter Meeting, discussing insurance issues for design professionals.

One topic we touched on was how to avoid invalidating your insurance.  As most of you know, Errors & Omissions insurance (“E&O” coverage)  is meant to provide coverage for mistakes you may make in performing your professional architecture or engineering services.  E&O coverage is important to protect you in the event of a lawsuit because, as you know, no set of plans is perfect (nor is perfection the standard of care).

Be careful, though.  Do not promise to provide a higher standard of care than the “professional standard“.

If you are asked to sign a contract that states you will use your “professional best,” “best efforts”, “highest care” or similar, you are being asked to sign something that could cost you your E&O coverage.

Examples of such language:

[Architect] [Engineer] shall perform the Services in accordance with the highest standards of professional competence in the industry.

[Architect] [Engineer] shall exercise a high degree of care and diligence in providing the professional services.

Architect’s] [Engineer’s] services shall be of first class quality and free from defects.

E&O policies cover you for failing to meet professional standards, but not in cases where you agree by contract to provide a higher/better/best standard. 

Explain the risks in such language to your owner clients.  No owner will want to put your insurance policy in jeopardy, and they should be willing to strike or modify that language to ensure that your work on the construction project is fully protected and covered by your E&O policy.

Some examples of coverable standards:

All services to be performed shall be performed in a manner consistent with that level of care and skill ordinarily exercised by members of Designer’s profession.

All services shall be performed in a manner consistent with that level of care and skill ordinarily exercised by members of Designer’s profession currently practicing in the location of the project for which the services are rendered, or similar locations.

Remember this, and make sure your future construction contracts contain favorable language that will actually be insurable.  You know– the whole reason you have professional liability insurance in the first place!

Have you ever been asked to agree to provide your best efforts?  How did you handle the situation?  Share in the space below.

Orders of Precedence in Construction Contracts, and the conflict between architects and contractors

duking it outA few years back, we discussed the Orders of Precedence clause in Construction Contracts.  I wrote a post talking about how having such a clause in a contract can help the parties navigate in the grey areas where specifications and drawings may disagree.

My post generated a follow up guest post from Phil Kabza, a MasterSpec specialist, on what he saw as the problems with an order of precedence clause in truly protecting all parties to the contract.

This week, Phil’s guest post generated a new, and thought-provoking (flame-provoking?) comment from “Joe GC”.  Joe writes:

It is another very typical situation of the Architect and Engineer doing a poor job and then trying to seek relief of their error at the contractors expense. Phil’s comments are based on the fact that all contractors are not ethical, which is simply not true. If the subcontractor is the expert, then why are the drawings and specifications prepared by Architect’s and Engineer?

This is exactly why Design Build delivery methods are becoming more popular by the day.   Single source responsibility from someone who really is an expert, not someone who has a lot of education and therefore purports to be an expert.

In otherwords in laymen’s terms “If I have to verify everything you draw and specify Mr. Architect, then why do I need you in the process at all”? If you are not responsible for the review of the submittals then why do I need to send them to you? No more “approved” stamps just “reviewed” stamps; it’s becoming a joke!

When will the Design Community wake up? That is why so many Architects and Engineers are now finding themselves working for contractors.  You are responsible for the Design Mr. Architect, it is cut and dry, simple as that, not rocket science and you do not need to be AIA or P.E. to understand it.

AIA needs to do more training, especially when it comes to spending time in the field. They need to understand what they are designing, just as the contractor needs to understand what he is building.  They have never seen it that way because they think they are above the contractor or smarter than the contractor.

Until they learn they are not better or smarter because of classroom education things will not be improving and the lawyers will continue to be the most successful.

 

Interesting perspective as to why Design Build is becoming more popular.  I think Joe is correct that Design Build is more popular now, but I think it has less to do with concerns about design professionals avoiding liability and more to do with the economic value in having the “buck stopping” at one single entity.

Is there a perception that designers are classroom educated but not field trained?  Is it a fair one?  Share YOUR thoughts with Joe and me, below.