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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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Unreinforced Masonry Wall Collapse

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

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

Engineering design drawings and specifications for the seismic strengthening of a circa 1888 unreinforced brick masonry building included the requirement for the general contractor to produce shoring and bracing plans and submit them to the structural engineer of record (SER) for review. Construction started without the knowledge of the SER, and work took place without those plans. The SER was excluded from the construction process, including the review of shoring and bracing plans, by the owner and the contractor. Due to the absence of shoring and bracing, a brick wall collapsed during construction, killing the contractor's foreman. The SER was sued for professional negligence and wrongful death. Two years after the "accident", and after a 6-week trial, the jury found the SER not negligent and not liable. The jury found against the owner and, through an indemnity clause in the construction contract, the contractor, and awarded the foreman's widow and step-daughters over $1 million in damages.

Low bidders and "Can-Do" kinds of guys kill people. Construction is a dangerous pastime, and builders sometimes take undue risks in order to save time or money. The engineer may be forced to accept the consequences of that risk under the worst circumstances. In this case, the jury decided that the general contractor and the owner actively prevented the SER from fulfilling his obligation to exercise care and diligence. The Jury found the actions of the SER were not beneath the standard of care, and they placed responsibility where it belonged.


Cite this page: "Unreinforced Masonry Wall Collapse" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 11/24/2010 OEC Accessed: Friday, August 16, 2019 <>