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The Structural Engineer's Standard of Care



Author(s) Joshua B. Kardon
Contributor(s) Joshua B. Kardon
Notes Presented at the OEC International Conference on Ethics in Engineering and Computer Science, March 1999
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Year 1999
Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center
Language English

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Lighting Tower Collapse

Author: Joshua B. Kardon, S.E. 
University of California, Berkeley

This case is an excerpt from "The Structural Engineer's Standard of Care."

Competent engineering practice includes timely communication of information. A recent tragic construction failure resulted in significant liability on the part of an engineer ("Suspended...", 1996). The SER for the Olympic Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, discovered an error in his design of a portion of a steel light tower to be built as part of the stadium. He notified his client, the architect for the stadium, and designed a repair for the error. The SER was not aware of the progress of construction, and did not consider the error and the repair an emergency. Unbeknownst to the SER, construction had indeed progressed to the point that the light tower was being erected ten days after the SER informed the architect of the error and the need for repair. The repairs had not been carried out by that time. During erection, the light tower collapsed as a result of the design error, killing one iron worker and injuring another.

The SER's engineering registration was suspended for three years by the Georgia Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, and the SER has been sued for wrongful death. The professional negligence alleged by the plaintiffs was the SER's failure to "explicitly indicate to the project manager (the architect) that emergency action was required." The error in the design was not negligent, but the lack of urgency in the SER's response to uncovering the error was.

The lack of urgency only became significant because the SER was unaware of the progress of the construction. Coordination or communication which should have occurred in order for the SER to have been aware of the progress of construction was apparently absent. Despite the possibility the SER may have had nothing to do with this absence of coordination or communication, the SER was on the hook. In this case, the engineer's liability apparently existed at least partially because of the failure of others to keep him informed. This is an important lesson for practicing engineers. They should make sure that important information flows in a timely manner to all appropriate parties.


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Cite this page: "Lighting Tower Collapse" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 11/1/2010 OEC Accessed: Thursday, January 18, 2018 <>