Legal Bites: Understanding Signing and Sealing Requirements for Engineers and Architects


Understanding Signing and Sealing Requirements for Engineers and Architects

Legal document and certification required in many official plans and specifications for public designs

Navigating the rules and regulations surrounding signing and sealing drawings and other instruments of service (collectively "Work Product") as an engineer or architect can be complex, with variations based on project location, document type, and other project specifics. In this issue of Legal Bites, we attempt to demystify the signing and sealing rules of the state boards of engineering and architecture by walking you through some examples from states that are significant DG project locations, but first off, what does an engineering or architectural seal mean?

The act of signing and sealing Work Product signifies that (1) the work was prepared by the design professional or under the design professional's direct control or personal supervision; (2) the signing and sealing design professional is of the opinion that the documents meet usual and customary standards of practice; and (3) the documents are appropriate for review and approval by the applicable code enforcement official.

What Requires Signing and Sealing?

Signing and sealing drawings and specifications is generally mandatory on construction projects involving civil, structural, electrical, mechanical (as well as other engineering disciplines), or architectural services. Some state rules differentiate between public and private clients when stating whether Work Product needs to be signed and sealed whereas other states require that only Work Product being filed with a public authority gets signed and sealed. Inconsistencies also exist between states concerning which documents prepared by an engineer or architect need to be signed and sealed as demonstrated by the following rules from California, Georgia and Utah.

All electrical engineering plans, specifications, calculations, and reports (hereinafter referred to as "documents") prepared by, or under the responsible charge of, a licensed electrical engineer shall include his or her name and license number…All electrical engineering plans and specifications that are permitted or that are to be released for construction shall bear the signature and seal or stamp of the licensee and the date of signing and sealing or stamping. All final electrical engineering calculations and reports shall bear the signature and seal or stamp of the licensee and the date of signing and sealing or stamping…(CA Electrical Engineering Rule 6735.3. Signing and sealing of electrical engineering documents)

The term, "documents," as used herein shall mean engineering and/or land surveying work issued in the form of plans, drawings, maps, surveys, reports, specifications, design information, and calculations…(GA Engineering Rule 180-12-.02 Sealing of Documents)

Any final plan and specification of a building prepared by or under the supervision of the licensed architect shall bear the seal of the architect when submitted to a client, or when submitted to a building official for the purpose of obtaining a building permit…(UT Architecture Rule 58-3a-602. Plans and specifications to be sealed)

What About Digital Sealing?

With the shift by virtually every industry, including construction, to creating documents by exclusively electronic means, many design professionals wonder what is required to sign and seal electronic documents. Does it mean that they can scan an impression of their seal and affix the pdf image that results onto Work Product? What about their signature? Can this be a pdf image, too? As demonstrated below, we see variation amongst the states here, too. However, most states have moved toward requiring the use of a secure tool that maintains the security of the design professional signing and sealing, and the authenticity of the Work Product. Watch for a future issue of Legal Bites wherein we will introduce you to a state-by-state reference tool for determining whether digital sealing is required.

Documents to be electronically transmitted beyond the direct control of the licensee that are signed using an electronic signature shall contain the authentication procedure in a secure mode and a list of the hardware, software and parameters used to prepare the document(s). Secure mode means that the authentication procedure has protective measures to prevent alteration or overriding of the authentication procedure…The term "electronic signature" shall be an electronic authentication process that is attached to or logically associated with an electronic document. The electronic signature shall be:

(a) Unique to the licensee using it;
(b) Capable of verification;
(c) Under the sole control of the licensee; and
(d) Linked to a document in such a manner that the electronic signature is invalidated if any data in the document is changed. (GA Engineering Rule 180-12-.02 Sealing of Documents)

When a digital Signature is applied to an Instrument of Service, it must have an electronic authentication process attached to it that is uniquely associated with the Registrant, can be authenticated by the recipient, and is uniquely linked to the underlying documents in a manner that will invalidate the digital Signature if any part of the document is changed. (MA Engineering Rule 5:03: Professional Seal)

…Electronically generated seals and signatures are acceptable. It is the responsibility of the licensee to provide adequate security when documents with electronic seals and electronic signatures are distributed….(UT Architectural Rule R156-3a-601. Architectural Seal - Requirements)

Other Sealing Idiosyncrasies

Beyond what needs to be signed and sealed and rules around digital sealing of Work Product, individual state boards of engineering and architecture can impose other requirements related to signing and sealing Work Product. For example, some states require that in addition to the seal, signature and date affixed to Work Product by the individual signing and sealing, information regarding the firm they are associated with or employed by must also be included on Work Product. The following is the State of Georgia's rule on this point.

The registrant shall seal, sign and date and provide COA name, Authorization Number and expiration date of the COA all original final documents which are issued to a client or any public agency. (GA Engineering Rule 180-12-.02 Sealing of Documents)

The rules often address how to sign and seal Work Product that consists of multiple sheets. Most states require that each sheet be signed and sealed; however, Georgia provides another option in the following rule.

If necessary due to number of sheets, in lieu of providing a seal, signature, date, and COA information on each drawing sheet, a summary sheet may be included in the form of a clearly drafted table or other format that identifies each registrants seal, signature, date, and COA information and which includes a narrative that clearly describes the element of work for which each registrant is responsible and indicates the most current version of each sheet. This summary sheet shall be included within the final documents. If a document is sealed, signed and dated and contains the entity's COA information by more than one registrant, the portion of the work for which each registrant is responsible shall be clearly noted.

Whose Responsibility is it to Comply with these Rules?

The responsibility to meet the rules regarding signing and sealing Work Product is among the most important and critical responsibilities of a design professional. Moreover, a seemingly minor violation of the rules can result in disciplinary action by a professional board. It is the responsibility of the DG design professional acting in responsible charge of the professional services being delivered on a DG project (i.e., civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, architectural) and signing and sealing DG Work Product to verify the state-specific signing and sealing requirements applicable to a project.

Fortunately, this information is readily available on all state licensing boards' websites. As such, we encourage all DG engineers and architects to keep apprised about the rules of the professional boards in the states where they are registered not only concerning the application of their seals on Work Product, but in other areas, as well, which we will cover in future issues of Legal Bites.

Legal Bites: Negligence and Gross Negligence: What’s the Diff?


Negligence and Gross Negligence: What's the Diff?

Frankfurt, Germany - September 30, 2022: Building worker on construction site of a skyscraper in the city center of Frankfurt, Germany

We often encounter language in our contracts with clients that includes the legal concepts of negligence and gross negligence. These terms are typically found in the indemnity clause of a contract and can also appear in exclusions in limitation of liability and waiver of consequential damages clauses, but what do they actually mean?


The Iegal definition of negligence is made up of four distinct elements. First, there needs to be a duty owed to the party who is claiming negligence. A duty can be established by contract, a duty to exercise reasonable care, and even customary norms. DG's professional services are measured by an industry standard of care which is that degree of care and skill ordinarily exercised by those practicing the same profession, under the same circumstances, and in the same location. In other words, the measure of DG's services is subject to evaluation by its peers.

Second, for negligence to be established there needs to be a breach of a duty owed to the claimant. If a claimant establishes evidence through expert witness opinion that DG's services fell below its standard of care, DG can be found negligent.

Third, a claimant needs to establish that the damages they are claiming were caused by the party they allege was negligent. DG's projects often have over 100 subcontractors working on them, as well as other parties hired directly by our Owner clients. By way of a somewhat silly example, our client's office cleaning vendor should not be held responsible for damages caused by a plumbing contractor's defective installation of plumbing fixtures as the cleaning vendor did not cause the Owner's damages.

Fourth, the claimant must suffer damages to prevail on a negligence claim. A prime example in our business is if DG prepares drawings and specifications for a project and they contain several deficiencies that are not caught until after construction. The Owner in this case would be entitled to recover the monetary damages they sustained in having to pay a contractor to de-install and re-install what was constructed. On the other hand, if the claimant incurs no monetary damages, they cannot prevail on a negligence claim. To illustrate where this might occur is if DG corrects errors and omissions that it catches in its designs before construction at no cost to the Owner and no further damages flow from the same errors and omissions. In this case, the Owner should not be able to recover monetary damages.

Gross Negligence

Gross negligence is also a breach of the duty of care, but unlike ordinary negligence, gross negligence is so severe of a breach that it constitutes recklessness. Reckless conduct implies that a party was aware - or should have been aware - that their actions would harm another person, yet they still chose to act. Gross negligence can best be described as conscious conduct that is so careless that it appears deliberate.

Gross negligence is commonly alleged in cases involving personal injury and fatalities on construction projects. The following case illustrates how a jury found a General Contractor to be grossly negligent when a worker for a glass subcontractor fell ten stories to his death while working on a hospital construction project in Texas. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's award of $7.9 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The Court concluded that (1) the General Contractor retained the right to control its subcontractor's fall protection measures and thus owed a duty to the worker, (2) the General Contractor's failure to ensure adequate fall-protection measures proximately caused the worker's fall, and (3) the General Contractor was grossly negligent.

The Court found gross negligence on the part of the General Contractor because it would be apparent to anyone in the General Contractor's position that there was an extreme risk of serious injury to anyone working on the tenth floor of the building where the only fall protection observed was a safety belt and lanyard when there should have been an independent lifeline. As further evidence of the General Contractor's gross negligence, a representative for the General Contractor testified that they were aware of the inadequate fall protection used by the worker, but consciously chose to do nothing about it.

Key Takeaway

While DG has an excellent safety program and record and our safety professionals assume great responsibility for the health and safety of persons on our projects, the above case is a stark reminder that if someone is injured or dies on one of our projects, our conduct and practices leading up to the injury or death will be closely scrutinized. Deviations from observing safety rules and regulations, conduct that does not conform to applicable safety policies and procedures (including those of our own), and an attitude of indifference can result in a finding of gross negligence. A gross negligence verdict can result in excessive punitive damages above and beyond direct damages typically associated with ordinary negligence.

Legal Bites: Work Now, Dispute Later


Work Now, Dispute Later

three worker team working wet cement  on floor by use trowel with long Tools spreading poured concrete for strong street after dry.

Who doesn’t like a good story? From time to time, I will attempt to teach our readers about risk management using case law. Most court cases start with a story. In the case of litigation involving construction projects, these stories can be quite familiar to us and relatable to our business.

In this month’s issue of Legal Bites, I share a story from a case about a subcontractor who refused to perform work until they received a written change order. Read on to learn how things turned out for both the subcontractor and general contractor.

The backstory

The case of McCarthy Concrete, Inc. v. Banton Construction Company stemmed from a large train station project in Rensselaer County, NY. Banton was the general contractor. McCarthy was a concrete subcontractor. The bid documents for the project required that concrete be poured. McCarthy’s subcontract excluded “concrete pumping”. However, after the project had already started, McCarthy was informed that the remaining concrete on the project had to be pumped (among other changes).

McCarthy informed Banton that the change from poured to pumped concrete would result in a price increase which Banton did not dispute. However, McCarthy and Banton could not agree on the amount of the price increase. Banton issued a 72-hour notice to McCarthy stating that if McCarthy failed to commence the extra work within the 72 hours, Banton would terminate McCarthy for default. McCarthy refused to proceed with the extra work as directed by Banton without an executed change order. As a result, Banton terminated McCarthy’s contract and retained another concrete sub to complete McCarthy’s scope of work.

Here comes the lawsuit

McCarthy sued Banton for additional compensation, including retainage, and claimed that they had been wrongfully terminated by Banton. Banton asserted a counterclaim against McCarthy for breach of contract and recovery of the costs they incurred completing McCarthy’s work.

The trial court ruled in favor of McCarthy on the basis that the increase in McCarthy’s costs as a result of the change in concrete placement on the project was material. The trial court also dismissed Banton’s counterclaim. Unsurprisingly, Banton was unhappy with these results, so they appealed.

Focusing on the following language of the contract between McCarthy and Banton (which is commonly found in most construction contracts), the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision.

“[p]ending resolution of any claim, dispute or other controversy, nothing shall excuse [McCarthy] from proceeding with the prosecution of the [w]ork.”

The court held that when McCarthy refused to do the extra work once Banton directed them do to it, McCarthy breached the contract and Banton was in the right to terminate them. The court said in its opinion:

“[McCarthy’s] refusal to perform the changed work without an express agreement as to increased costs has the effect of holding Banton hostage [because] the work, which was part of a much larger project, was stalled.”

So, the court held this way in the interest of economy. Delays are costly and it makes little sense to hold up an entire job fighting over the value of a change order.

The court also granted Banton’s counterclaim, allowing Banton to set off its completion costs against the subcontract retainage due to McCarthy.

Key takeaway

The key takeaway from this case for general contractors and subcontractors alike is that contract language requiring continuation of the work while disputes are resolved means just that. The best practice is to proceed with the work and maintain the right to pursue claims later, if necessary. In other words, work now and dispute later.

National Safety Month: Impairment

Beer background. Fresh beer on wooden table.

National Safety Month:

We've discussed spotting hazards, avoiding slips, trips, and falls, and the overarching effect of fatigue -- all of which are largely caused by the work environment and not by choice. For the last week of National Safety Month, we're taking a look at how some individual choices can create just as dangerous a hazard as a wet floor or too-long hours...and how to mitigate them.

Know what you're looking for.

Impairment isn't always as obvious as slurred words or stumbling; it can manifest in all kinds of ways to watch for. Warning signs of possible impairment, misuse, or addiction include personality shifts, trouble focusing, short-term memory loss, poor hand/eye coordination or fine motor skills, and incoherence, but may be as subtle as multiple, uncharacteristic missed deadlines or absences.

Drug testing, in compliance with federal or state laws, can screen for risky substance abuse issues, but often aren't administered to all employees or test for synthetic opioids. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an excellent resource for help with workplace drug testing.

Know what you're dealing with.

Opioid medications, even if prescribed by a doctor, run a high risk of addiction and misuse, and, according to a 2017 National Security Council poll, the construction industry reports higher-than-average opioid disorders. 

We already discussed how fatigue can have the same effect on your driving abilities as drinking. Alcohol causes impairment from the first drink, even if it doesn't seem obvious. Cannabis, increasingly decriminalized for recreational and medicinal use, has a wide range of effects depending on other variables. Although data on marijuana impairment is inconclusive, use can affect short-term memory, concentration, and delayed reaction time -- all of which can create job site hazards.

Even emotional impairment can create an unsafe effect on your ability to stay safe. If you're dealing with stress or anxiety, it can be difficult to focus at work, creating a risk for yourself and others.

Talk it out.

As it often is, the first step is education. We're not talking adult D.A.R.E programs; we mean creating a culture of open communication. Although 7 out of 10 surveyed HR officials reported opioid misuse in their organizations, only 19% felt "extremely prepared" to handle that misuse. Here are some ways you can avoid being part of the other 89%:

Establish a clear, written policy on prescription medication, help educate your employees about non-opioid options for pain management, and train employees to help spot signs of possible addiction or misuse to avoid or mitigate hazards. And if your organization offers an Employee Assistance Program, make sure your supervisors are comfortable advocating it.

pills baby!

Personality shifts, trouble with fine motor coordination, and incoherence can all be signs of possible addiction.

dr spacemen r & r

Before starting a new prescription, ask your doctor about any possible side effects and how it might impact your ability to work or drive. (Note: Dr. Spaceman is not a real doctor.)

af dont take drugs redux

Many employee handbooks are quite clear on the matter of mind-altering substances.

Make it a habit.

As uncomfortable as it might be, the best way to keep yourself and your teammates safe is to address the issue and discuss it with your supervisor, HR, or the safety team. Dennis Group's Safety Managers can help you learn how to spot impairments and have the tough conversations needed to ensure everyone can go home the way they came to work. 

We've enjoyed sharing our Safety Team's tips and advice with you over National Safety Month, and we hope these articles have helped you see that accidents are preventable if everyone does their part and watches each others' backs. Thank you, and stay safe!

Our safety record is one of the best in the business

Find out how we keep our worksites - and your projects - safe for everyone.

National Safety Month: Fatigue

symbolic clock showing different types of coffee for each time of the day

National Safety Month:

Occupational fatigue is all too familiar to plenty of employees who have worked multiple jobs, extended periods of overtime, or in exhausting work environments. Dennis Group's Safety Team is back to tell you that, sometimes, that fifth cup of coffee just ain't gonna cut it -- and some tips for making sure you don't get to that point.

You're getting sleepy...very sleepy.

Strenuous working conditions, irregular work schedules, and extended hours can all lead to fatigue - and fatigue can create or exacerbate hazardous working conditions and even contribute to health problems. More than 43% of workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk work the night shift, long shifts, or irregular shifts. 

Lack of sleep and/or extended periods of hard labor are the most obvious causes of workplace fatigue, but they aren't the only culprits. Your work environment might be contributing to your fatigue, too. In the manufacturing and construction industries, environmental conditions like constant loud noise or vibrations can exhaust employees. 

sleepy doggo

Feeling drowsy? Nearly 7 out of 10 workers feel tired on the job, and that means accidents are more likely to occur: about 45% of employers report fatigue-related safety incidents.

Just tired?

It's easy to joke about how adulthood is just being tired for the rest of your natural life, but just being tired is a genuine health and safety risk. Fatigued workers might show symptoms of depression, weariness or irritability, slow reaction times, lower motivation, and increased susceptibility to accidents or illness -- all of which can spell disaster on a job site.

And when it comes to operating heavy machinery, losing sleep can have the same effect as alcohol. Awake for more than 20 hours? You may as well be over the legal limit to drive. And you're three times more likely to be in a car crash if you're, say, from long shifts or lack of sleep.

george michael

Keep an eye out for signs of fatigue, like lack of concentration, unusual risk-taking, or collapsing on the floor when you get home.

Get some shut-eye.

The best way to avoid workplace fatigue is also the simplest: just get more sleep. But those 7-9 hours can seem like a distant dream when faced with the realities of 24/7 job site coverage and shift work. In these cases, it's up to team members to use your off-time to rest and try to ensure the sleep you get is as high quality as possible.

Exercise is one great way to improve your sleep by exhausting your muscles and creating adenosine, a chemical which helps you sleep.

Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages too close to sleep. Alcohol might make you feel drowsy but it can disrupt your circadian rhythm, and caffeine keeps you alert by blocking adenosine.

Blue light from your phone or TV can keep your body from producing melatonin, the hormone that tells you it's bedtime, so cut out screen usage at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Finally, keep your bedroom cool and dark. Blackout curtains keep light from slipping in and waking you up. And a room in the 60-68 degree F range stimulates melatonin production to send you straight to dreamland.


Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep each day so you can rise and shiine!

Make it a habit.

The key to fatigue risk management lies not just in balancing workloads, workplace design, and employee training, but on making those things part of your daily routine. Dennis Group Safety Managers check in regularly to watch for signs of fatigue and monitor the workplace to mitigate fatigue-related safety risks and encourage team members to look out for one another and alert a supervisor if they notice signs of fatigue in a co-worker.

Ultimately, workplace fatigue can be mitigated through a combination of employer initiatives like developing schedules to keep extended hours to a minimum and provide adequate opportunities for rest, and employees taking personal accountability for their needs and health. A well-rested work site is a productive and efficient -- and safe -- work site.

Our safety record is one of the best in the business

Find out how we keep our worksites - and your projects - safe for everyone.

National Safety Month: Slips Trips and Falls

A male worker wearing work boots in a warehouse walking into a liquid spill on the floor.

National Safety Month:

Now that you’re on the alert for hazards, let’s address some of the most common…and how to avoid them.

Sure, Charlie Chaplin slipping on a banana peel is hilarious, but falls can cause severe injury on the worksite and are the second leading cause of on-the-job deaths (about 17%). Read on to see how you can keep from falling down this slippery slope.

Don't get tripped up.

Ladders, rugs, slick walking surfaces, cluttered floors, and poor lighting: they all mean slips and trips.

Good housekeeping can minimize the likelihood of a fall by clearing the worksite of clutter and cleaning up spills. Burned-out lights should be quickly replaced so workers have a clear line of sight. Consider replacing rugs that wrinkle up underfoot with durable peel-and-stick mats to provide better traction.

Kick workplace falls to the curb.

One-quarter-inch trip lips are difficult to see and easy to catch with the toe of a shoe, sending workers sprawling. Make sure to clearly delineate trip lips, step-ups, and curbs so that workers can easily spot them and make the necessary adjustments.

Keep the worksite clear of clutter that could trip you up, and be sure to wear appropriate shoes (in this case, tap). 

Stay focused.

Sometimes the hazard isn’t the worksite; sometimes it’s our own inability to pay attention. Workers who are distracted by texting or looking at their phones or who aren’t watching where they’re going can take a bad spill even if the above hazards are mitigated.

Encourage workers to stop until they’ve finished with their message or wait until they’re in the break room. A focused work environment isn’t just more productive; it’s also safer.

Make it a habit.

Dennis Group Safety Managers always include slips, trips, and falls on our daily Job Site Analysis. We provide Job Hazards posters to help workers make a habit of identifying accidents waiting to happen and mitigating them before they do.

Extension cord laying in the hallway? Hang it up. Job site slippery with mud? Wear shoes with good traction and keep walkways clear. And be sure to review the daily Job Site Analysis with contractors in the field to address any concerns and keep up the commitment to a safe site.

Clearly delineate curbs and trip lips so they're easy to see. Keep the worksite well-lit (and, ideally, rain-free).

Our safety record is one of the best in the business

Find out how we keep our worksites - and your projects - safe for everyone.


National Safety Month:

If you’ve ever been kept up at night worrying about a big upcoming task, or if you’ve dreaded a tough conversation, you know that humans are exceptionally good at picking out the worst-case scenario and focusing on it with laser precision.

Advice blogs will tell you to try to consider more positive outcomes. I’m here to tell you that your highly-tuned pessimism is a manifestation of your sense of self-preservation and you should listen to it – at least when it comes to safety.

Look into the future.

The key to recognizing hazards is foresight. There’s no crystal ball involved, just one question:

What if?

What if when you take a tight turn around the next corner, and someone else is turning around it at the same time? What if one or both of you have your hands full?

Observing a potential hazard gives you the ability to avoid it – like by taking that corner at a wider turn – and ensure it’s mitigated for the safety of everyone on the worksite.

DG Safety Tip:

Housekeeping isn’t just for spring cleaning. A disorderly, dirty workplace can cause serious safety hazards, from clutter and debris causing a trip and fall hazard to rising workplace stress and plummeting morale.

DG Safety Tip:

Having fresh eyes and different perspectives on the worksite can be the difference between a missed or a mitigated hazard. Encourage contractors to be vocal about any hazards they spot or other safety concerns.

Connect the dots.

Recognizing the potential hazard is a good first step. The next is to contextualize it.

A concrete floor might be flat and clear – but a dewy morning makes it a slip hazard. An especially hot day can lead to fatigue, dehydration, and heat exhaustion – or even heat stroke. A hard frost overnight can mean slip and fall injuries thanks to ice the next day.

Your observational skills will be most tested by hidden or unobtrusive hazards, such as a burned-out lightbulb or a clogged exhaust fan. Regular workplace inspections, like the daily inspections conducted by Dennis Group safety managers, can identify hazards and mitigate them, but observant contractors can often spot and report any missed dormant or potential hazards.

Keep an eye out for these common hazards:

Chemical: compressed gases, solvents, lead
Physical: noise, vibration, heat, cold, radiation
Ergonomic: poor workplace design, jobs with repetition, force, and poor posture
Biological: bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, insects
Machine: moving parts like rotating shafts, belts, pulleys, blades, saws
Energy: pneumatic or hydraulic pressure, electricity, steam, gravity
Material Handling: manual and mechanical handling like lifting, lift trucks, conveyors

It's all in the mindset.

You might feel like Chicken Little waiting for the sky to fall but being aware and attuned isn’t about seeing dangers everywhere: it’s about cultivating a regular habit of active observation. Instead of just absorb the sights around you at a work site, remember to ask yourself what if? and what else?

At Dennis Group, our safety managers take a systematic approach to finding and mitigating safety hazards by creating a daily Job Safety Analysis and reviewing it with contractors in the field.

 Soon, spotting hazards will become second nature – and you and your site will be that much safer.

Our safety record is one of the best in the business.

Find out how we keep our worksites - and your projects - safe for everyone.