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RE: Shoring Design

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Title: RE: Shoring Design


I have occasionally agreed to work as an expert witness in the defense of engineers in trench collapse litigation.  Two cases come vividly to mind, both in Houston.  Each resulted in two deaths.  In each case, the contractors and subcontractors (employers) were protected by workman's compensation.  Also, the City was protected by a statutory $250,000 cap on claims.  That left the engineering firms that designed the respective projects as the sole defendants, even though neither was directly involved in nor even approved the design of the shoring systems that were (supposed to) be employed on the projects.  Both defendants were large national firms with deep pockets.

Each lawsuit was for more than $30,000,000.  Each plaintiff produced a long and varied list of experts on safety, engineering mechanics, construction law, and actuarial science (estimating the present worth of the deceased, had they not died).  As far as I know, I was the only expert for the defense.  After my lengthy testimony, one defendant was able to settle for only $7,000 (plus my exorbitant fees).  The other was not so lucky!  That firm employed a low-end utility pipe inspector full-time on the job site.  The inspector became personal friends with the deceased and ended up testifying on behalf of the plaintiffs, which ultimately cost the engineering firm a bundle.  It would have been much worse if the firm had actually designed and/or approved the shoring systems.

I have learned a lot from such litigation.  One thing that I have learned is that no engineer in their right mind should ever seriously consider designing, approving, or inspecting any temporary shoring systems.  Shoring is a "means and methods of construction" issue and, as such, is the responsibility of the contractor.  It's best to leave it there!


Stan R. Caldwell, P.E.
Dallas (a.k.a., "Tuna"), Texas

Bill Allen wrote:

> For as long as I've been in practice, I've been advised (E&O carriers
> and others) to avoid shoring design. I'm curious as to why this is,
> particularly if conventional engineering principles are utilized. Your
> comments would be most welcomed.
> In that regard, are there any "state of the practice" design
> publications for shoring design?
> TIA,
> Bill Allen, SE (CA #2607)