January 2021 – Law and Civil Engineering

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What is “Responsible Charge”
by Eugene Bass

The California Business and Professions code provides that all civil engineering plans, calculations, specifications, and reports, including documents for structural and geotechnical work, must be prepared by, or under the responsible charge of, a registered civil engineer. The term “responsible charge” directly relates to the degree of control a professional engineer is required to maintain while exercising independent control and direction of engineering work, and to the engineering professional decisions which can be made only by a professional engineer.

Engineering decisions which must be made by and are the responsibility of the engineer in “responsible charge” are those decisions concerning permanent or temporary works which would create a hazard to life, health, property or public welfare, and may include the selection of engineering alternatives to be investigated and the comparison of alternatives for engineering works, the selection or development of design standards or methods, and materials to be used, the selection or development of techniques or methods of testing to be used in evaluating materials or completed works, either new or existing, the review and evaluation of manufacturing, fabrication or construction methods or controls to be used and the evaluation of test results, materials and workmanship insofar as they affect the character and integrity of the completed work, and the development and control of operating and maintenance procedures. The engineer must also judge the qualifications of technical specialists and the validity and applicability of their recommendations before such recommendations are incorporated in the work.

The phrase “responsible charge” does not refer to management control in the business operations of an engineering firm such as administrative and personnel management functions including accounting, labor relations, performance standards, marketing of service and goal setting. The phrase also does not refer to the concept of financial liability. One in “responsible charge” must be capable of answering questions asked by equally qualified engineers that would be in sufficient detail to leave little question as to the engineer’s technical knowledge of the work performed and could involve criteria for design, methods of analysis, methods of manufacture and construction, selection of
materials and systems, economics of alternate solutions, and environmental considerations. The failure to exercise “responsible charge” as defined and required by the statutes, would not only be a violation of the law but could constitute a basis for negligence and liability for damages arising from a project.

This article is intended only to provide general information regarding legal issues. It is not to be relied upon for legal advice. Contact your attorney for advice and guidance on general and specific legal issues.


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