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Re: Structural Observation & Liability: When They Cover Up Their Work

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Jon,

Didn't you have your ESP tuned in to the contractor to know that they had
reached those stages of construction so you could drop by for a site
observation visit???

An architect recently showed me some contract language that addressed
construction observation.  Basically they warn the owner (since that's who
architects usually contract with) that construction observation is critical
to the project's proper completion, and that if the owner opts not to pay
for this phase of services that the owner will indemnify, hold harmless,
blah blah blah, the architect from any action brought due to improper
construction.   So if the owner decides to upgrade to gold-plated plumbing
fixtures instead of paying the archy for construction-phase services, the
architect is let off the hook (probably _after_ getting dragged into court).

In your case it sounds as if the contractor may have "forgotten" to call
you, and the owner may not have been aware that you required structural
observation (correct me if I've guessed wrong).  Under these circumstances
one wonders if maybe the contractor covered up work that he knew did not
meet the plans.

As Jake alluded, even if you performed extensive observation you still don't
want to "certify" that all is OK or otherwise put your neck on the chopping
block.  I don't have any suggestions on what to do now that this has already
happened to you.   I put some wording in my general notes to the effect that
if construction does not follow the plans (whether by misinterpretation,
oversight, omission or purposeful deviations on the contractor's part) that
I am not liable for any problems such deviations may cause.  (Have I
consulted an attorney about this?  Nnnnooooooo..........)

If structural observation was required on the approved plans, then the
building department should not sign off on the project until they receive
word from you that you observed that construction "was in substantial
conformance with the plans" (or something like that).  (I've been able to
get final payment from recalcitrant clients by reminding the building
official that I was supposed to observe the final structural work...)  So if
you really want to stir things up, you could send letters to the owner AND
the building department.

I wrote up some information on structural observation that someday our
office may give out to clients.  You can find it at
http://www.shearwalls.com/observation.html .  Feel free to use it as long as
you give credit to www.shearwalls.com .

Best of luck with this and future observation.

Thor

www.shearwalls.com


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