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Re: Proposed Standard of Care "again"

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Dear Mr. Williams:

 Your proposal is well-intentioned, obviously well thjought-out and 
expressed, and I am generally in favor of the concept.  I thank you for 
raising the issue.  However, it's not something to which one can respond in a 
hurry, although no response at all is regrettable and near-unforgiveable.  
Ours is a profession?  Over two weeks!  I apologize for all of us.  

We've got to get our act together in many aspects, and your proposal is a 
start on one of them.  Even if one were to disagree by 180 degrees, it's one 
of the things we must discuss on a planetary scale, because that's the scale 
of the problems we have to solve, and fast.

The points raised below, being hasty, are obvious, and perhaps I misread or 
misinterpreted things, but  we can get something started, at least, even if 
it's just correcting me.

I am not sure whether you intend this to be a set of legal requirements or a 
rule of conduct within the profession.  I much prefer the former, and the 
following is mostly devoted to that concern.  The latter is fraught with 

By definition, the law (the building code is law) is vulnerable to political 
and economic tinkering by the ignorant &/or ill-intentioned as well as the 
informed and responsible. The vast increase of wasted energy through flawed 
energy regulations written by single-minded zealots and prefab windows is an 
I have the impression your organization is usually prime designer.  My work 
as architect and SE has been in building construction, where the engineers 
are usually consultants to an architect as prime (whether for good or ill).  
The AIA abdicated enforcement of ethical standards because it gave up on 
accusations that those standards constituted restraint of trade.  It is, 
then, an awkward situation for engineers to develop this proposal without 
them, since for many of us, they are our clients.  

Further, the law is ponderous and totally unpredictable.  I haven't asked 
recently because it's too depressing, but the California Supreme Court has 
(or was about to or whatever) ruled that it's OK for the contractor to leave 
out tie-downs in earthquake country because until the earthquake, no harm has 
been done.  I'm sure they'll see an opportunity fur further mischief by 
ruling that fire resistance is unenforceable, and then move on to attempted 

The standard of care issue as it stands is most easily approached in 
litigation by answering the question of whether the law (the code) has been 
violated.  But that in itself is often very hard to establish, since the code 
masquerades as a technical rather than legal document, and its language is 
imprecise and sometimes undefinable and keeps getting more so.  It's use as a 
publication device for research papers doesn't help, either.

It is harder to depend on definitions of local practice as standard of care.  
What is local?  Where's the border?  Shall we include anthropology and 
sociology in the code?  What is practice?  Academic research where 
responsibility is not enforceable?  Running a  steel detailing shop?

Since the definition of truth in civil law is preponderance of evidence, two 
experts, or the same expert on two occasions, can disagree by any e however 
small but >0.  The jury then makes a decision on based on which expert is the 

Using the code to rule on matters of design and construction is a chancy 
business.  I've got to get back to work now.  More anon.


Ralph Gareth Gray  AIA ASCE
Architect, Civil & Structural Engineer
1001 Merced Street
Berkeley, CA 94707

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