I think you missed my point. The failure to address the issues related to
wood design and the relaxation of what will be accepted by a building
official creates a condition where most engineers are open to frivolous
suits regardless of how well they design.
I'm not speaking of the ethical and responsible professional. I am speaking
of the many attorney's who represent clients that, for whatever reason, file
suits which have nothing to do with loss of life or structural failure.
I've been dragged in as a cross-complainant four times. I have also been
dropped from the suits four times because I don't carry liability insurance.
I was told flat out that the party at blame needed to share the blame by all
parties who had coverage. Since I had none - the attorney's lost interest.
Now assume that I have coverage but feel that I did nothing wrong. However,
I did design by what the building department was willing to accept which was
not in full compliance with the published code. Even without structural
damage to show, I become responsible as the potential exists for damage
because I admittedly did not comply fully with the published code.
This has happened - although I was not the engineer of record. The
contractor was sued and the engineer pulled in as a cross-complainant. The
engineer designed by a method that was not codified at the time it was used.
However, the method was approved by the building department on a job by job
basis at the time the work was designed. The lawyer for the plaintiff
indicated that the project did not meet the standard of the code at the time
it was designed and indicated that his client had "fears" that other areas
of the building had been designed to less than full compliance with the
The suit was settled out of court rather than litigate and the Engineer's
liability insurance shared in the payout.
It does not matter how well an engineer designs. If he has to defend himself
numerous times because the code is either written in such a manner that
allows debate, the engineer will find in time that it is no longer
financially worthwhile to practice his trade. If he chooses to be fully
compliance while others are willing to be more daring, he or she will find
that they can not compete dollar for dollar.
What you say is absolutely correct - we should be doing the best job that we
can and not trying to cover out butts with legal rhetoric. My point is that
there are enough ambiguous issues in the code that creates an ideal
atmosphere for the legal profession to abuse the engineering profession.
However, it was engineers who created the code and engineers who placed us
in this position. These same engineers are not addressing and correcting the
From: Roger Turk [mailto:73527.1356(--nospam--at)compuserve.com]
Sent: Monday, February 21, 2000 3:25 PM
Subject: RE: UBC/LA City Code and Lateral Desig
Dennis Wish wrote:
Assume for the minute that the engineers who are designing by historic
method and who believe that he current, more elaborate method, does not
provide additional levels of safety. Therefore, they continue to design as
they have in the past and ignore the requirements of the present. As you
noted, this may be considered the standard of practice.
Now, consider that a major earthquake occurs and even one of the homes
designed by the conventional or historic method fails and life is lost. The
engineer is sued for non-compliance to the current code. Still, it is not
known if the increased scope of the new code would have provided further
I would say that the builder is in *big* trouble if none of the houses
designed in historic (hysteric??) times by historic methods did not fail and
only this one house failed. I would say that the engineer is in *big*
trouble if only houses that that engineer designed which were built by
different contractors failed and that similarly designed and built houses by
other engineers and contractors did not cause a loss of life.
Now, if this criteria is so critical, are you notifying all of your clients
for whom you designed houses based on historic methods that the houses were
designed inadequately and that they should be upgraded?
I would worry more about whether I am doing the best job in the best way
I know how than to worry about whether I am going to be hauled into court.
It seems to me that those who worry about covering their ass and smearing
disclaimers all over the place are more at risk than those that direct their
energies at doing the best job in the best way that they know how.
A. Roger Turk, P.E.(Structural)