DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this message is to question the feasibility of
resolving issues related to wood design methodology in court rather than
across committee tables as it should reasonably be resolved.
Recently, the City of Los Angeles published an Information Bulletin -
document ST-12 that establishes an "Interim Alternate Method for
Distribution of Lateral Forces in Wood Frame Buildings Assuming Flexible
Diaphragms". It is important to note that this bulletin does not arbitrarily
exempt wood framed buildings from compliance with the provisions of the 97
UBC. Instead, it offers an "Interim" alternative design that anticipates
equal or greater levels of protection with less paperwork.
This poses a legal and ethical dilemma. The wood diaphragm torsion and
shearwall rigidity issues are not being resolved AND the design engineer is
bound by professional responsibility to provide no less than that required
by the published code. Building departments can NOT provide protection for
engineers who comply with lesser standards that the building official may
allow. This can only be determined in court if a Standard of Professional
Care is not established or approval to less compliance published in a
document recognized legally as establishing this standard of care (i.e.,
ICBO's Building Standards).
The choice is to A) "bite the bullet" and comply fully with the provisions
of the code to the best of your professional ability or B)force a resolution
by establishing precedence through a court decision.
As long as expert witnesses are allowed to use the ambiguity of the code
rhetoric to "spin" interpretation, no other "willing" venue exist to resolve
the issues. However, few cases ever reach litigation - settlements are
generally reached - supposedly contingent upon no admission of wrong-doing
(although implication always remains). How many times must the issue be
tested before engineers are denied representation for issues related to wood
structures - or worse yet, before engineers are denied coverage because they
have been unreasonable victims of frivolous suits supported on weak or
ambiguous interpretation of the code.
However, should this become the only options, we as a professional
community, may find it necessary to privately fund legal expenses necessary
to force a resolution to this issue in order to protect our future
Resolving professional issues in court to force resolution of an issue that
should be considered the ethical responsibility of our policy makers will
bring shame to our profession - as much as a family airing their dirty
laundry in public. However, when push comes to shove - forcing litigation
may save millions in the long run and protect the reputation of engineers
forced to accept implications of wrong-doing by those finding it less costly
to settle out of court.
I urge the policy makers to resolve the outstanding issues and those in
private practice to invest in a defense fund to force legal resolution if
this is the only avenue that remains available for our protection.
Dennis S. Wish, PE
Structural Engineering Consultant
(208) 361-5447 E-Fax