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Q: When is the correct time to have P.E. after your name? Some in our firm believe that when signing business documents, such as contracts and proposals, you would not use P.E., but should use the P.E. when writing letters and reports about inspections and things that express an engineering opinion. What about the situation where we do not want to express a professional opinion, should we use P.E.?

A: Generally speaking, the use of a professional title or designation—such as P.E.—is generally limited to a licensed engineer. Some states have stricter requirements as to who can use such a designation or title, but this can be easily found out by consulting your licensing board as to the appropriate use of titles for registered engineers. As far as using the designation “P.E.” in a letter, again, generally speaking, if you are giving a professional opinion and the law requires that the opinion be that of a licensed or registered engineer in your jurisdiction, then the writer should indicate that he or she is a professional engineer. Additionally, some states require the inclusion of the engineer’s license number, as well as require the engineer seal the document, much like a drawing is sealed.

In the case of rendering an opinion or comments in which you do not want the opinion or comments to be a specific professional opinion, you should include a disclaimer to the effect that the comments in the letter, memo, or drawing are not intended to be an expression of professional opinion and should not be relied upon by the recipient as such. You could further note that the information contained is for informational purposes only. Finally, the use of the P.E. designation in common correspondence or executing documents is generally acceptable so long as it is not a misrepresentation as to the engineer’s qualifications or legal status as an engineer. Basically, titles or initials used in such situations are an honorary appellation to your signature.

The bottom line when signing any document or representing yourself is to not misstate your credentials. This could lead to legal troubles. So, if you are not a registered professional engineer, I would recommend that you not use the P.E. designation. Of course, it is your responsibility to consult your jurisdiction as to the proper use of your title and credentials.

Q: Our firm has been contracted to prepare foundation drawings for a pre-engineer building that is to be provided by others. To make a long story short, when we received the plans, they were missing essential details, such as overall dimensions and dimensions locating any columns. No scale was provided, nor could we correlate any standard engineering or architectural scales with the overall outlines, and the overall dimensions shown on the calculation sheets. I attempted to call the firm that produced the pre-engineer plans, but found out the firm does not exist. What is my professional duty at this point?

A: In a general sense, you are under a duty to make sure the design is adequate. The overall design and the existence or non-existence of the firm that put these “pre-engineered plans” together does not relieve you of the overall responsibility of performing within the standard of care. If the information provided is not sufficient for you to execute your duties within the professional standard of care, you should either complete the task to make the plans sufficient to meet that standard, or decline to work on the project in light of the absent information.

The overall recommendation would be to inform the client of the incompleteness of the material received. If the client wishes for you to complete the project and you believe you are professionally competent to do so, then you may proceed within the standard of care, to complete the assignment. Of course, there may be additional questions that arise, including additional services inasmuch as the completion of the plans may be additional work given that the owner was supposed to supply the “pre-engineered drawings.” If the owner agreed to provide “pre-engineered drawings,” but they are inadequate, then the owner would not get the work for free. The engineer working on the project would be entitled to additional compensation to bring the plans up to the standard of care. However, prior to proceeding with the additional work, the discussion should be had with this owner or client to make sure that this individual is fully aware of the situation and give them an option to proceed.

Michael J. Baker, Esq., is a partner in the Cerritos, Calif.-based law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo. He is an expert in design and construction contracts, mediation, and litigation. Please send him your legal questions via e-mail at mbaker@gostructural.com.