This question is motivated by a question which came up recently on engineering.SE: https://engineering.stackexchange.com/questions/3186/cracks-on-the-wall. It may be closed in the future so I will summarize. The user posted pictures of (very large) cracks in the wall of his house and asked the community "could you please advice to do continue the construction as per proper standard or I have demolish the house and re-built again?"

A professional engineer advising this individual under the auspices of a hired firm would have certain legal obligations to the correctness of their opinion. If one were to advise this individual in a way that led to him living in an unsafe structure on Stack Exchange, what legal repercussions could they face?

In particular, is there any legal precedent (read prior court case) which absolves freely offered online advice from liability?

  • This is the internet. The risk is entirely with the person asking. If they want to have some kind of legally binding guarantees, they need to hire a professional instead. – Martijn Pieters Jun 15 '15 at 12:18
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    @MartijnPieters I believe you are right, but it would be nice to see a court case in which that opinion was upheld. – Chris Mueller Jun 15 '15 at 12:19
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    Certain countries may prohibit certain professions from giving advice online because of the liability implications, but Stack Exchange doesn't make any demands from people offering answers in this respect, nor are there any guarantees offered towards those that ask questions. – Martijn Pieters Jun 15 '15 at 12:19
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    Then I think your question is off-topic here. This is a site for discussion Stack Exchange itself, not the broader nature of the legal implications of asking for and receiving advice online. – Martijn Pieters Jun 15 '15 at 12:20
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    I think you'd be better off asking this on law.stackexchange.com I'd normally suggest checking the site's help to see what's on topic but I guess that hasn't passed legal review yet (law.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic) – Robert Longson Jun 15 '15 at 12:52
  • @RobertLongson Thanks for the pointer. I didn't realize that they had gotten off the ground yet. Since I've already asked it here, I'll wait and see how it goes. – Chris Mueller Jun 15 '15 at 13:04
  • "...a court case in which..." -> I think the only possible grounds for such would be the same as they are in the real world: fraud. If I am an acquaintance, relative, etc. and you ask me my opinion about this wall and I say, "Oh that's safe," then it collapses and kills your cat, you don't have any grounds. However, if I purposefully lied to you, particularly by claiming to possess credentials I don't possess, and you can prove this, then you might have a fraud case. Note I'm not a lawyer, lol. – goldilocks Jun 15 '15 at 19:02
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    Now posted on Law Stack Exchange. – HDE 226868 Jun 15 '15 at 21:24
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    I think the question is highly relevant for Meta SE, because I'd be interested to know what official position (if any) Stack Exchange has on the matter. – BrenBarn Jun 16 '15 at 6:25

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