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Re: Ceiling deflection damage caused by excessive snow - who is responsible

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Bill Polhemus wrote:
Rhkratzse(--nospam--at)aol.com wrote:

Isn't this called incompetence?  What's the use of having a building department if they don't catch something as basic--and serious--as this?

With respect--and I do mean that--that's a very strange concept, that the building department is supposed to "catch" problems like this.

The reason it seems strange to me is that whatever "building department" you might find in the various municipalities around here is likely to be staffed by someone who once worked summers in high school for his uncle, the carpenter, and knows how to use a tape measure (although it's been awhile).

One of the first things to understand is that the majority of building departments in this county and San Bernardino -east of the city of San Bernardino and Riverside - contract out their plan check services. I am not sure, but if I recall, Hemet also contracts out their services. This being the case, the information that is obtained by snow load is often at the discretion of the contract plan checker.
Like Joe, I've done a residential design in Pinyon Pines and was told that at 2200 feet above sea level there would be no snow load. This goes back to 1994 and I have not done one since. If this changed then I was unaware of it. Once again there may be an area called Pinyon Crest that is at a higher elevation and I would need to find this out.
For the record, this is not my client - I've been asked for an opinion as he is my friend. Another engineer in this valley designed the structure and, as I understand, a call was made to whomever was in charge of the plan check authority (whether it was local or county) and this is where he received his information.
I think it is a bit premature to judge the building department and the information given, however, it is true that a building department can not be held liable for giving out wrong information - even numerous times. I don't recall the document that was written many years ago but the example was that a plan checker constantly gave the same information to designers that was wrong. He was not aware that it was wrong and because of their status as a municipality, the city could not be sued for his error.
Does this leave the responsibility on the EOR - probably but this too is not fair if he acted upon the information provided by the building official or his representative. I suppose the EOR could have called other professionals who designed in this area, but this should not be necessary and he should not be held responsible for designing to a substandard requirement of the city.
Who is at fault - in my opinion, the city is at fault, but is also free from liability. Therefore, the claim should be dismissed unless the lawyers can find a way to act against the city for failing to issue the proper information. The cost of doing so will probably be many thousands of dollars higher than simply repairing the damage with a fabric tape - but this is one of those conditions where the engineer and the manufacturer, only if they knew the information was wrong, should not be held responsible.

--

Dennis S. Wish, PE
California Professional Engineer
Structural Engineering Consultant

dennis.wish(--nospam--at)verizon.net


760.564.0884 (office - fax)

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