The Field Engineer: Political and Legal Scapegoat—

by Frederick S. Richards, (M.ASCE), Asst. Constr. Supervisor; N.Y. State Department of Transportation, Rochester, N.Y.,
Virginia Fairweather, Editor; ASCE NEWS, New York, N.Y.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1977, Vol. 47, Issue 7, Pg. 77-79

Document Type: Feature article


The publicly-employed engineer can be in a vulnerable legal position. A case history is described in which a field engineer was indicted on criminal charges after a bridge collapse (during construction) in which three people were killed. He was eventually exonerated, but had to bear the strain of four years of legal proceedings and would have had to pay the legal fees as well; the state legislature passed a special bill to pay these costs. The man was an employee of a state department of transportation. Liability problems are even more common in the civil area and the public employee is not always protected. Legal background for this situation is explained; terms such as sovereign immunity, discretionary and ministerial duties are defined. Advice on determining one's legal status as a public employee is given.

Subject Headings: Employees | Political factors | Legal affairs | Case studies | Bridge failures | Infrastructure construction | Bridge engineering | Strain

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