I was recently asked by a design professional what risk he may face if he signs and seals documents that were created by someone else. It’s essential to ensure that state registration law requirements are met. In most states, the signing and sealing of documents provides evidence that a properly licensed and authorized individual has been in “responsible charge” or “direct supervision” of the preparation of the design and the documents expressing that design. Under state law, a thorough code review may be sufficient for the local firm signing and sealing the drawings to meet the requirements of being in responsible charge of the project. Signing and sealing the documents of another without knowing facts that must be known or exercising due diligence in carefully examining the documents would be negligence if the action did not meet state registration laws.
There are no standard contracts for this service. The design professional actually signing and sealing the instruments of service may want to obtain indemnity from the client that includes the defense of the design professional’s license in any state registration board disciplinary action. Although allegations of negligence could result in a claim that is defended by professional liability insurance, any state registration board action would not be covered by a professional liability policy.
Signing and sealing a document does not absolve prior firms from being responsible. From a professional liability perspective, the firm signing and sealing the documents is not the only firm “on the hook” for negligence. If the negligence is attributable to the original designer or other firm providing professional services on the project, they will be held responsible as well. It would be prudent to verify that the prior firm has professional liability insurance. If the project results in a claim, in all likelihood both firms will be involved. The firm signing and sealing the documents doesn’t want to be the only one with insurance assets. It also makes sense for the reviewing firm to be contractually protected from the negligence of the originating firm.
For more information, see our Management Advisory Signing and Sealing Instruments of Service Prepared by Another Design Professional.