An engineer discovers deficiencies in a building's structural integrity, and it would breach client confidentiality to report them to a third party.
Metzler, an engineer, is hired to confirm the structural integrity of an apartment building that Metzler's client, Smith, is going to sell. According to an agreement with Smith, Metzler will keep the report confidential. Smith makes it clear to Metzler that the building is being sold in its present condition without any further repairs or renovations.
Metzler determines that the building is structurally sound, but Smith confides to Metzler that violations of electrical and mechanical engineering codes do exist. While Metzler is not an electrical or mechanical engineer, he realizes that the problems could result in injury and informs Smith of this fact. In the report, Metzler briefly mentions the conversation with Smith about these deficiencies, but he does not report the violations to a third party.
Were Metzler's obligations to Smith fulfilled? What about Metzler's professional responsibility for public safety? Is there any information not supplied that would make an important difference in your judgment?
--adapted from NSPE Board of Ethical Review Case No. 89-7
NSPE Code of Ethics An earlier version may have been used in this case.
Return to Professional Ethics in Engineering Practice: Discussion Cases Based on NSPE BER Cases
This ethical decision-making framework developed by Dr. Michael Davis of the Illinois Institute of Technology is useful in guiding discussions around case studies and other ethics courses and workshop activities.
This bibliography includes examples of different ways instructors have used case studies to introduce ethical topics to their students and resources for finding cases and incorporating them into the classroom.
In this essay, Dr. Whitbeck outlines an 'agent-centered' approach to learning ethics. The central aim is to prepare students to act wisely and responsibly when faced with moral problems. She provides a number of examples and cases with descriptions of questions and directions for promoting student participation and stimulating thought and discussion.