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(Fwd) Re: Firm Sued Over Fractures in Steel Frames in Quake.

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This responds to an Email by Frank McClure to the SEAOC list server 
on Januaryh 29, 1997.  In the Email, Frank notes that a   BILLION dollar
 class-action lawsuit had been filed  in the Los Angeles Superior Court
 accusing the manufacturer  of the welding materials used in the construction
 of the welded steel moment frame buildings that were damaged in the
 1994 Northridge earthquake of making  and marketing a weld metal that poses 
an unreasonable risk of damage" to  building owners and the public.
Frank asks several questions as follows:
 
> Will this lawsuit have a "chilling" influence on the SAC Program for the
> Evaluation, Repair and Modification and Design of of Steel Moment Frames? 
> Will the SAC Investigators be willing to present their findings and
> recommendations concerning the use of  certain welding procedures in the
> usual professional manner that other engineering findings and recommendations
> are presented to the structural engineering profession with this  
>and other  similar lawsuits in the background?

RESPONSE
Although the referenced class action suit has only recently been 
filed, this is not the only litigation related to steel construction
that has been in progress since the inception of the FEMA/SAC program. 
There has been litigation in process against the electrode manufacturer
for more than a year, relating to a specific building.  Similarly, 
there has been litigation on-going against a steel mill related to 
fabrication induced fractures. Other litigation has been initiated 
against individual engineers, fabricators, erectors, etc. by 
individual owners of damaged buildings.   Since many of the researchers and 
consultants participating in the SAC project are among the most 
knoweldgeable people in the field, their services are naturally 
sought by attorneys on both sides of such litigation, to provide 
expert opinion.  Also, since many industry advisors to SAC are also 
litigants in the various actions, it is unavoidable that many 
participants in the SAC project are on different sides of litigation.

While this has unavoidably lead to some less than completely 
comfortable situations in SAC sponsored meetings and workshops, I do 
not believe it has inhibited the investigation or reporting of 
pertinent findings of research.  In fact, it could be argued that it 
has actually improved the research process somewhat, in that to a 
certain extent, some  research performed by SAC investigators, has 
been funded by private litigants.  This research has extended to 
fractographic analysis of damaged buildings, toughness tests on weld 
and base metal materials, and even some full scale connection 
assembly testing.  Reports from this research has been consistently 
and objectively reported by SAC and included in our various 
guideline and advisory documents.  The objectivity of the findings 
reported by SAC is assured through the review of an independent 
Project Oversight Committee, chaired by Dr. William Hall of the Univ. 
of Ilinois and containing respected senior personnel from the 
research, industry, professional, and regulatory communities.

> Should the SAC Investigators excuse themselves from continuing to serve on
> the SAC Project if they take commissions to be expert witnesses for either
> side in the above Pillsbury, Madison &  Sutro and other similar lawsuits
> concerning the performance of welded steel moments frame buildings in the
> 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge earthquakes because of a possible
> conflict of interest? 

RESPONSE
The SAC Project Management Committee, consisting of the Program 
Manager (S. Mahin) and Project Directors (J. Malley, R. Hamburger) 
has considered this question in the past.   It was agreed that the 
memebers of the Project Management Committee, having responsibility 
to make decisions with regard to expenditure of research funds, as 
well as to manage and direct the focus of the overall project and provide
for the publication of objective information would not participate in 
any litigation related to welded moment frame performance.  In fact, 
each of the members of the Committee were independently asked to
participate in the litigation relating to the welding electrodes and declined.

It was also decided not to prohibit our various consultants and 
investigators to participate on such projects.  The performance of 
litigation related services is a siginficant part of some 
consultant's and investigaor's livelihood and had such a restriction 
been imposed, we were concerned that it would preclude the 
particiaption of some very valuable team members.  Also, such  a 
policy would be contrary to typical practice in the research 
community.  For example, NSF never limits their researcher's 
participation in private projects, related o their research.


> Will these SAC Investigators have an unfair advantage as expert witnesses
> with their advanced and "insider" knowledge and information concerning the
> seismic performance of the welded steel frame buildings and the results of
>  the latest, yet unpublished research concerning the testing and other
> investigations of welded steel frame buildings which is not readily available
> to other engineers?  

RESPONSE
Clearly, SAC Investigators will have more knowledge then many other 
engineers with regard to this problem, due to their intense 
concentration in this area of work.  However, SAC dissemination of 
pertinent information to the professional community is one of SAC's 
highest priorities.  All of the reports on resesarch funded by SAC 
are available for the cost of reproduction and handling.   Further, 
SAC is commited to publication of Advisories, which will be 
distributed gratis by FEMA to all who are interested in them.  One 
such advisory is currently being printed by FEMA and should be in 
SEAOC members hands within a few weeks.  Interestingly, one of the 
most common comments that SAC has recieved from the profession with 
regards to our publications is that - "it is a lot of good 
information - but too much to read - can you summarize it in a few
pages?"  Obviously, it will never be possible to provide engineers 
with such an attitude, with an equivalent level of comprehenesion of 
the many complex issues regarding moment frame performance, as the 
posessed by the various SAC researchers.  This is not unfair, it is 
reality.

>  It would appear that structural engineers should know more about
> welding and what welding materials to specify than to just referencing  the
> usual national standards in their specifications to protect themselves from
> potential professional liability lawsuits?

RESPONSE
The SAC Guidelines (FEMA-267), published in August, 1995, 
provide a significant amount of information on how engineers should 
specify welding for their projects.  These still represent the best 
recommendations of the research and code development community with 
regard to this issue.
 

Ronald O. Hamburger, SE
Regional Manager
EQE International, Inc.
San Francisco, California