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RE: Ethics 101

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These were great ethic's questions. There are a couple of 
straight forward answers.
Currently, I have clients holding up payments to me because I 
uncovered problems in construction during structural observation 
and reported (as indicated in the code) to the building 
official. The remedial measures were rather extensive and the 
contractor, working directly for the building owner, convinced 
the owner in layman's terms that I was being too picky and that 
the corrections were not necessary. He also convinced the 
architect that I was just trying to create a market to gain more 
fee's from the project.

Whenever I receive a call now to inspect a structural problem, I 
clearly indicated to the potential client that the inspection 
will lead to a report which is to be issued to the local 
building official. I also make it clear that if there is a 
problem, it will be reported rather than concealed. If he does 
not like this, he can phone another engineer.
Admittedly, I have lost business because of this as well as 
obtaining a reputation for being overly conservative. I have 
also gained a stronger relationship with my clients that 
appreciate the honesty and have more faith in the value of my 
designs for them.

We are in a damned if you do and damned if you don't profession. 
Our reports, unless supported by mathematical evidence, is a 
professional opinion which can be disastrous to our business if 
we don't make a publicly popular choice. Personally, I'd rather 
be out of this business than attending funerals for those that 
may have been saved by my report.

Dennis Wish PE

BTW, we all make mistakes. We are just so afraid of litigation 
that most of us are not willing to own up to the mistake. 
Recently, I had designed a garage header for a custom home. 
After construction the architect called me in stating that the 
header was failing. I checked my calculations and called the 
architect back to assure him that the beam was designed 
correctly. I asked him to have the contractor verify the grade 
of lumber, look for defects and to verify if there was a crown 
in the beam that may have been placed downward. I informed him 
that for a sixteen foot span, the allowable deflection was 
around L/240 or 0.8" for live + dead load. Being in the desert 
on a nice day, the deadload deflection calculated at less than 
At this point the architect said that the noticed deflection was 
closer to 1/2" and that was unacceptable to the owner. The wall 
was a double wall design and the contractor installed another 
beam adjacent to the original one.
Now the owner is refusing to pay part of my fee for the 
deflection problem which was designed within code allowable 
limits. Who is going to win this one?