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Steel Moment Frame Buildings and Strict Product Liability

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George Soneff, Santa Monica Attorney 310-449-1000 called regarding steel
moment frames. He represented St. Johnn's Medical Plaza which had
"horrendously cracked welds found about 1 year after the event when the
owners were refinancing the buildings. Some columns were completely severed
by the cracks. The building was deemed unsafe by an engineer and was
immediately evacuated and repaired. A lawsuit involving the owner, Lincoln
Electric, Dillingham Construction, and Brandow and Johnston ensued. A two
year investigation full time by this lawyer ended with it settling out of
court. The NS3M, Lincoln Electric's brand name for the E 70 T4 weld material
was the principal issue in the case. St. Johns sued Lincoln arguint that it
was a defective product subject to strict products liability law. Mr. Soneff
believes that this material renders tall welded steel moment frame buildings
much more vulnerable than others. 150,000 pages of documents were produced.
Soneff found Lincoln Electric's documents describing how they marketed and
sold the product and how they specifically targeted tall buildings in
California. The product produces welds 5 to 10 times faster than older stick
welding. Lincoln Electric charged 2.5 times more for NS3M than sticks but
contractors realized a big savings in labor costs. The problem with the
material is that it is "incredibly brittle" in Soneff's words and that
dynamic or shock loading can cause fractures of the weld material. The court
ruled that Lincoln can be held strictly liable. Upon hearing that ruling,
Lincoln settled out of court for $6 million instead of going to trial. Soneff
is increasingly frustrated with the problem since there are other buildings
with the same problem. The class action lawsuit proposed by Pillsbury,
Madison, and Sutro is still awaiting certification before proceeding. Since
the St John's case settled out of court it established no precedence in case
law, so the issue of product liability will be retried. The primary issue
with the class action is whether or not many owners with somewhat different
situations can proceed as a class. Soneff says that there is a lack of
precedence for building owners to band together since their problems are not
entirely identical as in most other class action cases. This class action may
have trouble getting certified by the courts because each owner has a
somewhat different situation with their building. Soneff says he wants to
ensure that this welding material should not be used in the future. Soneff
wants to pursue the possibility need for retrofitting the most vulnerable
buildings. Given the relatively low levels of ground motion in Santa Monica,
Soneff asked rhetorically what can we expect in larger events. The settlement
is not confidential. Soneff is prohibited from commenting in public on
Lincoln's reasons for settling. There is nothing that he has said above that
is confidential. He is interested and willing to testify before the Ca.
Seismic Safety Commission. 
Fred Turner
Staff Structural Engineer
Ca. Seismic Safety Commission
1900 K St. #100 Sacramento, CA 95814
916-327-1606 916-322-9476 Fax