Note: This answer is completely USA focused.
Yes, we need a disclaimer.
Just like other sites that have a disclaimer (Law and Health), Engineering is a profession that is regulated by each individual state.
- Each state has laws that make it illegal to "practice engineering" without a license in that state. Note that the phrase "practice engineering" is in quotes because the term is
not clearly defined overly broad (see one state's definition at the end).
- Each state also has language in its Professional Engineering statues that say that if your license is revoked/suspended in other states, it will also be done in this state.
Put the two items together and add "on the internet". A licensed Professional Engineer could lose his/her license or ability to be licensed in every state simply by someone suing that engineering was being "practiced" in a state where the person does not have a license. On the internet there is no way to control where a user reads an answer and follows through without proper precautions. No engineering company is going to want to defend lawsuits that come to their employees based on internet postings.
The first argument against needing a disclaimer is: Who would sue over random information found on the internet?
This is a good point, but the information is not always given by random people on the internet.
I wouldn't trust random user hazzey, but I am much more likely to trust My Real Name, P.E.. I can also find the state(s) where My Real Name, P.E. is licensed and look up their details including license number.
Now I am not trusting hazzey. I am trusting My Real Name, P.E. and following that person's advice.
This may scare off future contributers who may not be interested in creating a fake internet persona. Those people are also likely to be the experts.
I have a lot of respect for users who use their real names here.
How this affects ME.
I am a frequent contributer on this site. The reasons above directly affect how I contribute to this site. I do not talk about specific projects, and I water-down questions and answers so that there is a very limited amount of information that could be used to identify me. I do not use my name or picture for these reasons. I also do not list my state or which state(s) I hold license(s).
References to back up the above statements.
These are publicly available references to licensing boards that have issued disciplinary actions for issues that might come from using this site. There are no actual lawsuits listed, because I lack the expertise to find those even if they are public.
Mr. X, P.E., Y, Wisconsin - File D-1425 - The Colorado Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors issued Mr. X a Stipulation and Final Agency Order which required him to complete an engineering ethics course, comply with Colorado statutes, regulations and rules of conduct governing engineering practice and assessed him a $750.00 penalty for failing to meet generally accepted standards of engineering on three residential foundation projects by relying on data provided to him by his clients. Based upon the action taken in Colorado, Mr. X's Texas engineer license was also subject to censure; therefore, the Board accepted a Consent Order signed by Mr. X to Refuse to Renew his Texas engineer license. Disciplinary action taken in October 9, 2003 Board meeting.
Mr. X, Y, MI - File D-1158 - Mr. X’s engineer license was revoked in North Carolina for performing engineering outside his area of expertise, sealing work not performed by him or under his direct supervision, and failure to seal other related engineering documents. Mr. X also signed a Consent Order for the revocation of his license in South Carolina for his actions in North Carolina. The Texas Board accepted a Consent Order signed by Mr. X for the revocation of his Texas license based on his action in North Carolina. Disciplinary action taken in March 10, 2000 Board meeting.
From New York:
Licensee admitted to the charge of allowing an engineering company to offer and/or practice engineering in the State of Ohio without a Certificate of Authorization.
Licensee did not contest charges of improper professional practice or professional misconduct by a duly authorized professional disciplinary agency of another state(s) where the conduct upon which the finding was based would, if committed in New York State, constitute professional misconduct under the laws of New York State, specifically Missouri discipline, and Kansas discipline and filing a false report.
Licensee admitted to the charge of allowing an engineering company to offer and/or practice engineering in the State of Oklahoma without a Certificate of Authorization.
Licensee admitted to the charge of practicing the profession of engineering without having completed the mandatory continuing education requirements.
Investigation revealed that X violated sections 8792(g) and (h) of the Business and Professions Code. The records of the Board show that X is not licensed by the Board as a Professional Land Surveyor. Investigation revealed that X listed himself as a land surveyor in his candidate's statement on a ballot for election to the Officer of the Assessor of San Luis Obispo County.
Investigation revealed that X violated section 6787(h) of the Business and Professions Code. The records of the Board show that X is not licensed by the Board as a Professional Engineer. Investigation revealed that X used the initials "P.E.," An abbreviation of a restricted titled, on his business cards.
An investigation revealed that X, an unlicensed individual, prepared a design for a storage space to be attached to a commercial building in violation of Business and Professions Code section 6787(a).
An investigation determined that X, a person not licensed by the Board, violated Business and Professions Code sections 6787(a) and (g) by offering structural (civil) engineering services within a contract to provide design and construction planning services for a 4-unit housing project. His contract included "structural engineering as required." Structural engineering falls within the definition of civil engineering; therefore, the person providing and/or offering those services must be licensed as a civil engineer. An informal conference was scheduled following receipt of X's July 14, 2004, letter disputing the charges against him, stating that he did not deny structural engineering was included as part of his contracts; but that he always hires a licensed structural engineer to prepare the engineering documents. California law does not allow someone who is not licensed to offer to provide civil or structural engineering services regardless of who does the actual engineering.
Investigation determined that X, who is not licensed by the Board as a professional engineer, violated Business and Professions Code sections 6787(h) and 6732, in that he was using the title "professional engineer" and the abbreviation "P.E." on his website. He was contacted concerning the violation and agreed to have the references to the title or abbreviations of the title "professional engineer" immediately removed from his website. Several months later, his site had not been corrected. At an informal conference in March 2005, X stated he had not meant to use a restricted title; that his title should have PhD, not P.E
None of the information above even touches the idea of safety, or what may happen if someone is injured. Lawsuits where there are injuries or death are well known for casting a very wide net that includes people who aren't directly involved.
Will a Disclaimer Help?
There is no guarantee that posting a disclaimer will help deflect liability or law suits. It will be one extra layer of protection though. As mentioned at the beginning, if lawyers and doctors feel that this extra layer of protection is necessary, it should be needed for engineers as well.
Definition of "Practice of engineering"
This is Oklahoma's definition:
"Practice of engineering" means any service or creative work, the adequate performance of which requires engineering education, training and experience in the application of special knowledge of the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences to such services or creative work as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning and design of engineering works and systems, planning the engineering use of land and water, teaching of advanced engineering subjects or courses related thereto, engineering research, engineering surveys, engineering studies, and the inspection or review of construction for the purposes of assuring compliance with drawings and specifications; any of which embraces such services or work, either public or private, in connection with any utilities, structures, buildings, machines, equipment, processes, work systems, projects, and industrial or consumer products or equipment of a mechanical, electrical, chemical, environmental, hydraulic, pneumatic or thermal nature, insofar as they involve safeguarding life, health or property, and including such other professional services as may be necessary to the design review and integration of a multidiscipline work, planning, progress and completion of any engineering services.
A person or entity shall be construed to practice or offer to practice engineering, within the meaning and intent of Section 475.1 et seq. of this title who does any of the following: practices any branch of the profession of engineering; by verbal claim, sign, advertisement, letterhead, card or in any other way represents such person to be a professional engineer, through the use of some other title implies that any person is a professional engineer or is licensed or qualified under Section 475.1 et seq. of this title; or who represents qualifications or ability to perform or who does practice engineering;