A very strange thing happened lately to our office.

Most of you know that there is a state law for structural observations for certain phases of construction, performed by the design structural engineer. This structural observation has nothing to do with the city’s inspector coming to the site and signing the job card. This structural observation program was designed to protect the owner of the job, that the contractor builds the structure exactly as it was designed by the structural engineer and approved by the city’s plan checker and doesn’t leave out any important element from the construction. It also protects the contractor by shifting the responsibility to the structural engineer, should any problem surface long after the building was finished, because he approved every phase of the construction. It is a win-win situation.

When we finished a small residential project lately, the contractor noticed the mandatory structural observation schedule on the plans. He immediately demanded the removal of those, saying that he knows how to build a building and he doesn’t need anybody to check his work. He said he knows the city building inspector and he – the inspector – will approve his work, so he doesn’t want the structural engineer coming to the site during construction. We tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to him that if we do not comply with the state law and don’t indicate the necessary structural observations on the plans, we could be legally liable. We also told him, that if he doesn’t want us to perform these observations, then don’t call us, we will not go on our own, only when it is requested.

Unfortunately we didn’t come to an agreement, we did not remove the observation schedule, but he didn’t pay us for the work either. We did not have a choice, but had to go to court to have the court decide. The question really was: As a professional, can we do less than the law requires, even if it is with the knowledge and the request of the client?

What do you think what was the court decision?

P.S. Of course, the law was upheld. We won and even got paid, although it looks like – not surprisingly – the contractor will not use our services in the near future…

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