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Land Surveying Ethics is a discussion forum for issues involving ethics in the practice of Land Surveying.  Every Land Surveyor has faced or will face an ethical problem or concern.  This is where we air it out and compare notes.  What is or is not ethical is sometimes a matter of law, sometimes a matter of opinion, but always a matter of morality.

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Land Survey = Insurance

If a land survey were to be construed as an insurance policy on one's boundaries, then the one who owns the land may want to consider getting the best insurance policy, rather than the least expensive. Although all surveys are supposed to be equal by minimum standards that regulate the professional land surveyor, many land surveyors subject themselves to latent liabilities by not meeting said minimum standards in a less-than-egregious manner which may tend to go unnoticed or ignored by almost everyone except an attorney who is representing the adjacent land owner in a boundary dispute.

I don't know about you, but I don't ever want to say "No, your Honor, I certified a survey that that does not meet ALL the minimum standards." To meet most of the easily recognizable minimum standards and ignore the remainder is to be partially professional, partially honest, and potentially criminal.

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  • Land Surveyor


    If land owners want the best boundary line survey because they consider it like an insurance policy, how do they get it?  If they go to a State Surveyors Association or  a State Board for Surveyors to ask for help, they simply will be told, at the most, "Here is a list of licensed surveyors in your area"  or, even more farcical, "you can find the minimum standards for surveyors in  Chapter A-E 6, A-E 7 and A-E 8".  Or the land owner  might ask someone in the community  who has seen a beautiful surveyors plan (which may have not been worth the powder to blow it to smithereens).  Even though we surveyors tend to shy away from attorneys, an attorney who has seen our work tested in a courtroom may be our best advertising asset!

    Using minimum standards to guide us is a sure fire way to get into trouble!  I cannot imagine how a surveyor can do a 1/3000 survey and then certify his measurements to 0.01 feet and 30 seconds of arc!! Those types of minimums are completely anomalous to each way can a 1/3000 survey give 30 second and 0.01 foot types of accuracys!!  I also believe that most surveyors who understand anything about "errors of closure" and "significant figures" knows that a 1/3000 closure couldn't possibly be any good when they are using modern day instrumentation. (When I worked in Boston, we were not happy with a closure less than 1/50000. Even in wild land surveys in Northern New England using a compass and drag tape we expected 1/5000 or better).

    I agree with what I believe was your initial premise..set your own standards, which I am sure will be much higher than any set by the regulatory agencies. Do not be deterred by the fact that other licensed  surveyors use the minimum standards as their guide....when their work is finally tested in court a good attorney will use those minimum standards to show what a terrible job  those standards produce!

    I didn't intend to tear the Wisconsin laws apart...they are similar to most states.  They also appear to be like most states in that their examination board members have no qualifying standards placed on other words, the examiners may be far less qualified than the examinees!

    I think you have started a discussion worthy of more input...I hope you get it.


    • Land Surveyor


      Thank you for researching the Wisconsin minimum standards of practice before pointing out that there are certain inherent latent ambiguities within those standards that may or may not have been tested in a court of law.

      The WSLS in on the case as we speak, tearing apart its own minimum standards.  

      We don't regulate ourselves; and it takes so much time to take a concept from committee to committee to lobbyist to bill  

      I sincerely hope that all of the United States of America unite in this effort at introspection in attempt to better benefit the general public, by modernization and disambiguation of unrealistic language contained within the minimum standards of practice and conflicting interpretations, thereof.

      Regulatory compliance issues facing the land surveying profession, while seemingly more important, now, in a microcosmic scale, may the strangling root of the future of the profession.  We need to figure this stuff out before it's too late.

      We, as Land Surveyors are at a crossroads; one at which the very definition of everything we do is on trial.

      Don't go to a trial without an attorney, right?


    • Land Surveyor


      You were up in the wee hours last night!!

      Wisconsin is not alone in the dilemma it has created with it laws and regulations....very few states have regulations for surveyors that don't have ambiguities.

      I believe it is very unfortunate but necessary for a surveyor to set standards for himself that are so far above the "accepted standard of practice" that the laws and regulations that govern them are meaningless because of that high standard he holds himself to.

      What is the old saying...I believe it goes like this "Reputation is what you have from the people who watch you, Character is what you are when no one is looking".  In our profession, just like ALL other professions, there are those who work hard to "be seen of others", and then there are those who quietly practice their profession with integrity. I am sure you, like me, have often wondered if we put ourselves into public view trying to better our profession will it detract from our own integrity.  The biblical expression that speaks of those that do things to be seen of others  is good to keep in mind when we try to help our profession.

      Don't despair   ... the passion you have for the profession and the ability to look back at work well done will carry you through. I began my surveying career 50 years ago last month, and I think I am more passionate about it now at 72 years old. I have been knocked down many times by others when I have spoken about professionalism, integrity, etc.....but here I am, still alive and kicking!


  • Land Surveyor

    What in the world is :"partially honest" or "partially professional". Try telling the opposing attorney that you have been partially honest or partially professional.  You can bet your bottom dollar that he will then concentrate of the partially dishonest and partially unprofessional part or your behavior!!!

    • Land Surveyor

      Good point, David.  I'll see your bet and raise you one more bottom dollar that the surveyor won't get partially sued, either.  

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