Individual Liability and the Development of Defensive Engineering in Professional Practice

Sarah Maslen, Jan Hayes, Janice Wong, Christina Scott-Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Recent years have witnessed increased individual sanctions for engineers in the event of a major failure such as the Deepwater Horizon blowout. The medical profession experienced a similar trend, which has been well-documented. Fears of litigation have resulted in defensive medicine, practices aimed at reducing doctors’ risk of legal liability, sometimes to the detriment of patient care. To date, the emergence of defensive engineering has received only minimal attention. An exploratory survey was conducted with Australian engineers (n=275) about their responses to personal liability concerns, guided by observable trends among medical doctors. The analysis compared reported engineering practices with those adopted in the medical profession. The prevalence of consideration of liability and adoption of defensive practices is such that defensive engineering can be considered to be established behavior. Engineers are responding particularly by using extra or augmented resources and increased reliance on routine. Some defensive practices are more insidious in medicine than in engineering, giving insight into the potential path these concerns could take if left unchecked, including the impact on current trends in civil engineering education.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0000023
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Civil Engineering Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


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