Architect Stamping - To Stamp or Not to Stamp

By David H. Bowser, Attorney

This article was originally published in the January 16, 2019 edition of the Cascade Business News.

As professionals, one of the highlights of our careers is that day we magically get to practice our chosen profession as some board has decided that we have checked all of the required boxes.  This often comes after years of study, a large amount of student debt, and passing a professional exam.  For architects, that day is the day he or she can stamp his or her own designs.  Like all licensed professionals, that newfound and earned ability comes with liability.  In one's eagerness to get going, it is easy to overlook the substantial liabilities that come with the privilege.  The purpose of this article is to provide a primer on the liability that an architect assumes when he or she places his or her stamp upon a plan set.  It is crucial knowledge for the young professional and a good reminder for the seasoned practitioner.
 
The practice of architecture is governed by statute.  Under ORS 671.020(5), the stamp and signature by the licensed architect is a certification that the architect has exercised the requisite professional judgment about and made the decisions upon all matters embodied within the documents, that the documents were prepared either by the architect or under the direct control and supervision of the architect, and that the architect accepts responsibility for the documents.  That long sentence sets forth several important consequences of the stamp.  The stamp certifies that the architect has performed his or her services consistent with the professional skill and care ordinarily provided by architects practicing in the same or similar locality under the same or similar circumstances.  The architect is also taking responsibility for all decisions made in preparing the design and plans.  So by including another's unstamped work, he or she has taken responsibility for that work.  The architect is also certifying that he or she has been involved in and supervised all of the work.  In short, when an architect stamps plans, he or she takes full responsibility for those plans.
 
An architect cannot escape the certification by working in a firm.  Under ORS 671.041(4), all professional documents issued by the firm that are required to bear the stamp of an architect must bear the stamp of the architect responsible for the preparation of the documents.  The use of a firm does not protect the stamping architect from liability.  Under ORS 671.045, the creation of a professional entity does not affect the law applicable to the professional relationship and liabilities of the person rendering service and it does not affect the standards of care for that professional.  A shareholder, director, officer, employee, or agent of a professional corporation may be held personally liable for the negligent acts committed by that person, or by a person under the direct supervision and control of that person.  A shareholder, director, or officer may also be held liable for negligently participating in such acts or misconduct of another in the corporation. The business entity is jointly and severally liable up to the full value of its assets for such acts or misconduct.
 
Should a professional stamp work done by another for which he or she did not take the lead?  This is often referred to as "office stamping."  Bob or Betty Architect is out and those plans must be submitted today so a junior architect is asked to stamp and sign.  This practice should be avoided as it is a breach of the certifications made by the act of stamping and places personal liability upon someone who did not do the work.  In short, never office stamp.
 
In conclusion, the act of an architect stamping comes with substantial responsibility.  Those who performed or supervised the work are the proper persons to stamp.  An architect should never stamp another's work unless he or she supervised that work.  If there is ever a question about whether or not to stamp, professionals should contact a trusted and knowledgeable design professionals attorney.  After work is stamped, it is simply too late.
 
David Bowser is a construction design professionals lawyer at Jordan Ramis PC.  Contact him at david.bowser@jordanramis.com or (503) 598-7070.