When one considers a “professional relationship,” one assumes a formal agreement between service provider and client, with billing and payment for service. It may come as a surprise to learn that these relationships can be formed in a far less formal manner. The role played by the individual professional and the information that is provided and relied upon can all lead to a relationship—even though no money is requested or received. And, these informal relationships carry many of the same implications and ramifications as relationships created by formal agreement.
An engineer met with an owner who had a lien on his property, had hired a lawyer and was anticipating litigation. The engineer prepared a quick construction detail for the owner. And, according to a third party who was present, the engineer said he would write a letter assessing the quality of the construction. No letter was written, no bill was sent and that was the end of the interaction. Yet a Washington court held that a professional relationship had been established between the engineer and the property owner.
The other case in this issue involved a “pay-when-paid” clause. The clause had an unintended consequence for the prime contractor, who included the language in the subcontract. Commencement of the subcontractor’s statutory claim limitation period was delayed by years while the prime arbitrated and settled a liquidated damages dispute with the public project owner.