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Why the Cheap Surveyor Isn't the Best Surveyor for Asheville - or Anywhere...

The dispute chronicled in Colonial Pipeline Co. v. Brown, 258 Ga. 115 (1988) is a compelling object lesson on why the least expensive and quickest survey may not be the best choice. The case was initiated in the Georgia court when a bulldozer was destroyed after the operator hit a major underground petroleum line.

The owner of the bulldozer (Wright Contracting) filed suit against several parties, including the surveyor who prepared the grading plan. Although the surveyor knew that the subject tract was to be graded, he apparently made little effort to research recent easements. The surveyor also claimed not to have seen a preliminary title package that described the easement in detail. Neither the original boundary survey nor the grading plan showed any indication of the pipeline easement.

Discovering the easement document would not have been difficult, as it was described in a deed properly recorded in 1976. The surveyor—working from a 1966 deed describing the subject parcel—searched for easements created prior to 1966 but did not research possible later conveyances.

Testimony indicated that the surveyors’ research failed to meet requirements found in the Rules of State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, Section 180-7-.02. Another expert testified that obtaining a pipeline map of the Colonial Pipeline was a relatively straightforward process. He also indicated that the surveyor should have searched recorded documents both before and after 1966 for relevant deeds.

In its conclusion, the court states specifically that the surveyor “failed to discover the recorded easement,” despite constructive notice implicit in the recording of the easement document and its link to the relevant chain of title.

In disputes of this nature, the surveyor often will attempt to justify lack of diligence by claiming adherence to minimum standards. This argument is weak for two reasons:

1. Minimum standards often require the surveyor to obtain “all necessary data” and/or to “protect the public health, safety and welfare.” In this case, the surveyor failed to meet either standard.

2. In considering claims of common negligence or gross negligence, courts often look beyond the strict definitions found in Standards of Practice and apply a standard of care appropriate to professionals in the broader sense. This standard often is based on widespread practices within the profession in that jurisdiction.

In the surveying profession as elsewhere, the clients sometimes get what they pay for. The cheapest survey may seem attractive, but the long-term problems and additional expenses will be remembered long after the satisfaction over initial savings has faded.

Some utilities may not be as obvious as this Roman Aqueduct.
Roman Aqueduct, Tuscany

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