GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 38-3
Presentation Time: 2:05 PM


HOBBS IV, G. Warfield, Ammonite Resources, 181 Mariomi Road, New Canaan, CT 06840,


Limiting Your Legal Liabilities as a Professional Geoscientist

G. Warfield Hobbs, P.G.

As our modern society becomes ever more litigious, geoscientists are at risk of being sued, fined, or even jailed, if an employer, investor, or the public believes the technical work product is flawed. The tragic L’Aquila Earthquake in Italy in 2009 is a case in point. Six Italian government geoscientists were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six year’s imprisonment for failing to predict the severity of the earthquake that killed 308 people.

Geology is not an exact science, yet geoscientists are paid every day to assess the probability of geologic hazards occurring; originating and directing exploration programs that cost millions of dollars; estimating mineral resources that may well cost billions to develop; and opining on the geological integrity of infrastructure projects. If someone loses money, or a life is lost, there may be some very unpleasant consequences for the geoscientist on whose interpretations and recommendations someone else depended.

Whether one practices geology as a consultant, for private industry, a governmental agency, or as an academic, there are concrete and practical steps that can be taken to significantly reduce your potential legal liability. These include employment and consulting contracts that clearly define the scope of the engagement; require the contracting party to acknowledge the geotechnical and operational risks involved, and agree not to hold the geoscientist liable if results turn out to be different from the original interpretation. Legal indemnity provisions should be included in the contract. It is appropriate to require that the client not alter the geoscientist’s final work product. Finally, reports prepared by a geoscientist must include a section on potential risks – i.e. a dry hole may be drilled, and include appropriate disclaimer language. Many states require a professional license if one’s practice is a matter of public health and safety. Naturally, the best way to avoid potential legal issues is to always adhere to the highest ethical and professional standards, and to not practice beyond one’s professional qualifications. There is no legal protection in the case of a knowing violation of any law or regulation, or of gross negligence.