Land Surveyors are required to be licensed as “professionals” by their respective state boards of licensure within every state of the Union. Since they are licensed by a governmental agency, most land owners, property developers, and layman assume that “all land surveyors are equal.” That is simply not true. The level of education, number of years of experience gained, the mentality of the professional surveyor determine the competency of the professional.
The fact is that the requirements to become a land surveyor vary greatly from state-to-state. Some states require zero education, some just 16 credit hours, while others require four-year bachelors of land surveying degrees. Similarly, some surveyors have become licensed with just two years of experience while other states require up to 16 years of experience before an individual is allowed to sit for their Professional Land Surveyor exams. This wide disparity in education and experience often causes the same property to be surveyed by different professionals, often with widely varying results.
Duty Owed to the Client
No matter of their education or experience, Professional Land Surveyors owe a certain duty to each of their property owner clients. The courts have found that surveyors have a survey to use the “best available evidence”, to follow generally “accepted rules and regulations” (i.e. State Board Minimum Standards and State Case Law) and to “exercise the proper degree of care and skill” when performing any land survey.
In one of my favorite cases, Graves v. S.E. Downey Registered Land Surveyor, P.A., the court stated that “Standards for demonstrating the elements of professional negligence do not differ from profession to profession. The plaintiff in a professional negligence action must establish the appropriate standard of care, demonstrate that the defendant deviated from that standard, and prove that the deviation caused the plaintiff’s damages.
One of those standards care specially requires the surveyor to check for and discover easements and, if found, bring that fact to the attention of the owner, preferably by letter. That is exactly what the Surveyor did NOT do in our video case study. Watch below to find out what happened and how I helped the property owner prove negligence when the surveyor failed to locate an easement within the public record during a boundary survey of a subdivision.
Proving the Professional Standard Was Met (or Not)
The duty of care a land surveyor is obligated to provide is that degree of care that an ordinarily competent surveyor would exercise in like circumstances.” But what does that exactly mean? Is there a bright-line test for each type of survey? Is a survey proper with 1 second of error but negligent with one minute of error? Civil courts throughout the nation require that a Professional Land Surveyor serve as an expert witness in order to explain whether the plaintiff or defendant surveyor met the standard of care.
Instead of a “he said, she said” argument, the Surveyor Expert should have a deep library of resources including land case law, surveyor case law, textbooks, and an encyclopedic knowledge of State Survey Board Acts & Rules. These resources set the standard and the Surveyor Expert simply presents and explains these resources to the Court.
Once the standard is known, applying that standard to the plaintiff or defendant is easy.
Standards for demonstrating the elements of professional negligence do not differ from profession to profession. The plaintiff in a professional negligence action must establish the appropriate standard of care, demonstrate that the defendant deviated from that standard, and prove that the deviation caused the plaintiff’s damages. The duty of care a land surveyor is obligated to provide is that degree of care that an ordinarily competent surveyor would exercise in like circumstances.