Menu
0

800-523-2319experts@tasanet.com

Articles

Claims Involving the Built Environment: How Architects and Engineers Can Advise Attorneys

TASA ID: 971

The built environment is full of hazards, costs and losses from which claims can arise. When an injury or loss occurs in an existing portion of the built environment or during construction, an architect or engineer can provide valuable insight in helping an attorney to sort out the issues associated with the physical conditions in the built environment.

The built environment includes any structure or area that has been formed by design and construction and is not solely the result of nature. The portions of the built environment may include, but are distinct from manufactured environments. As a result, most humans spend virtually all of their time within the built environment or within the influence of the built environment. This advice can help the attorney develop a legal strategy for filing a claim or for defending against a claim.

Claims from injuries:

Frequently, claims arise from an injury that has taken place in the built environment and in which the built environment has played a role. The following types of injury commonly give rise to a claim for which an architect or an engineer can advise either plaintiff's counsel or defendant's counsel:

  • Fall down stairs
  • Trip on a walking surface
  • Slip on a walking surface
  • Injury from broken glass
  • Illness from the interior environment
  • Injury from un-dampened door caught by wind
  • Injury form protrusions in a walkway

In examining the role that the built environment plays in injuries such as these, an architect examines three general areas: 

  • Design
  • Construction
  • Maintenance

An architectural expert can help determine which elements of the built environment are relevant to the injury and provide an initial evaluation of the portion of the built environment associated with the injury. Furthermore, an architectural expert can advise if an engineer should be consulted regarding specific portions of the built environment that are being evaluated. An engineering consultant is often needed when one or more engineering disciplines are involved in the incident that has given rise to the claim.

To get an idea of the type of multi-disciplined situations an architect can evaluate, consider a hypothetical injury in which a pedestrian falls down exterior concrete stairs at seven o'clock in the evening in mid-January. The architect's initial investigation of the site yields the following information:

  1. The walking surface of the steps (the treads) slopes downward toward the nosings because the concrete stair structure has either settled at the bottom or heaved from frost at the top, or both, causing the stair structure to rotate.
  2. The steps are not provided with a handrail.
  3. Adjacent grade slopes toward the steps, causing ice melt and surface water run-off to flow down the steps, where it may freeze and cause a slipping hazard.
  4. The nearest light fixture is a 100-watt incandescent bulb with a glass globe, mounted eight feet above and twenty-three feet behind the top step.
  5. Roof drain leaders discharge water onto grade, four feet behind the top step, at a higher elevation than the top step.
  6. The dimensions of the risers and treads of the steps do not fall within the limits provided by current code.  

All of these conditions gathered from a field investigation may have contributed to the slip down the stairs and the pedestrian's ability to recover from the slip. The attorney may offer to obtain an opinion of weather conditions from an independent expert based on available weather data. The architect may request maintenance records, as well.

Following this investigation, the architect can determine if separate engineering analyses are required to evaluate the design of roof-drain piping, the design of foundations for the concrete step structure, the design of grades affecting surface water run-off adjacent to the steps, and the design of lighting systems. Possible engineering disciplines could include:

  • Mechanical engineering
  • Structural engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Electrical engineering

The architect would rely on the attorney to decide how these engineering analyses will be handled. Two options can be considered:

  1. A separate engineering expert can be retained for each discipline.
  2. The architect can consult with engineers of the appropriate disciplines, as an architect would normally do in the course of executing his or her responsibilities. The architect can then rely on these engineering consultations, combined with his or her experience, to formulate an opinion.

This second option is beneficial if qualified engineers are available and have a working relationship with the architect, but are reluctant to testify or submit a report with findings  that are critical of a colleague.

Once the design of pertinent portions of the built environment has been evaluated, the architectural expert can evaluate if the failure of these systems is the result of faulty

  • Design: Architectural or engineering design which fell short of the requirements of code or reasonable professional standards
  • Construction: Materials or methods of construction which did not conform to the design or to reasonable industry standards
  • Maintenance: Maintenance practices which did not meet applicable codes or reasonable standards

For the last category, an expert in facilities maintenance may be required, depending on the sphere of the architect's practice and the nature of the alleged maintenance deficiencies.

 Other sources of claims

Claims that arise from injuries in the built environment are quite common. Other conditions that can give rise to claims associated with the built environment include: 

  • Losses from failure of one or more built elements
  • Illness from failure of one or more built elements
  • Losses from construction delays and cost overruns
  • Injury during construction
  • Damage to adjacent structures from demolition or construction operations
  • Losses from design deficiencies, errors and omissions
  • Losses from a property seller's failure to disclose defects
  • Losses from fire, water or natural disaster
  • Losses from misuse of built elements

An architectural expert can provide guidance in all of these areas in the same way described for claims initiated by an injury. As with all claims involving the built environment, an architectural expert can help either plaintiff or defense attorney to identify the scope of expert reporting and testimony required to make or answer a claim.

Getting an expert started

Once an attorney has found an architectural expert who is suitable for a particular case involving the built environment, several steps should be taken to ensure that the expert has the information needed to work in an efficient and focused manner, to avoid excessive costs and irrelevant findings.

A synopsis of the facts of the case should be given to the architectural expert. This synopsis can be given orally, through e-mail, by sending a copy of the complaint, or through a statement made by the claimant. This synopsis is intended to allow the architectural expert to determine what aspects of the built environment must be investigated. Following this synopsis, more detailed materials can be given to the architectural expert to ensure that he or she has an accurate understanding of the case as it relates to the built environment. These materials should be sent to the expert, not to TASA.

Once the expert has an understanding of the case, it is advisable for the expert to perform a physical examination of relevant portions of the built environment. This physical examination is necessary to determine the usage of the building or grounds, to take detailed measurements of physical features, to record material characteristics, to take photographs, to record dimensions and to gather other relevant physical data.

Following a physical examination, the expert should express preliminary findings to the attorney so the attorney can determine if the information obtained is relevant to the case.  The expert relies upon the attorney to establish the form of communication for these preliminary findings, as well as subsequent communications, to ensure that all rules of discovery are observed.

The architectural expert will rely on the attorney to determine if an opinion should be expressed in the form of a report for the attorney's use or to present to other parties in the action. An examination and report can serve as a basis for testimony, if needed. 

An architectural expert, working alone or in conjunction with engineers, can assist an attorney with investigations, reports and testimony for claims that arise from a wide variety of occurrences within the built environment.

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA.

Bookmark and Share
Previous Forensic Engineering Investigation of a Long Span Wooden Truss Failure During Erection
Next Inappropriate Buffer Zones in Sports and Recreation May Lead to Litigation
Print
Tasa ID971

Name:
Email:
Subject:
Message:
x

Let Us Find Your Expert 

Submit

Search Experts

TASA provides a variety of quality, independent experts who meet your case criteria. Search our extensive list of experts now.

Search Experts

Testimonials

  • I think it's always good to have access to experts when [TASA] make[s] the process so easy."

    Scott McIntosh, Lewis McIntosh & Teare, Royersford, PA

  • As a busy practitioner, managing a sizeable caseload, I can use all of the help available to me. If I can outsource a task, particularly one as important as securing a qualified expert, I will jump at the opportunity. I use TASA in nearly every case where I need to find an expert witness, be it an engineer, an architect, an economist, etc. They have thousands of qualified experts to refer in virtually any field. Best of all the process is extremely simple. When I need an expert I simply contact TASA, whose knowledgeable representatives ask you targeted questions about your case, your legal theories, and your goals, in order to find the right expert for your case. I usually receive CVs and calls from the potential expert within hours. If you find the originally selected person is not a good fit – for whatever reason – TASA will work with you to find the right person. I would happily recommend this service to any attorney."

    Patrick K. Gibson, Gibson & Perkins PC, Media, PA

  • Ms. Darlie I. McDonald RN was awesome on the witness stand, and we prevailed in our case to the tune of  [a] (highly unusual [amount] for a medical malpractice [case] in our area).  I'd highly recommend her."

    Shane Reed, Shane A. Reed Law Office, Jacksonville, OR

  • I appreciate your inquiries and offers of assistance as well as the consistently high-quality, well-organized, and erudite TASA webinars, which invariably have excellent presenters."

    Maurice S. Kane, Cummings McClorey Davis Acho and Associates PC, Riverside, CA

  • Steven Kursh was an outstanding technical expert on our ecommerce IP lawsuit. He completed a massive amount of work on extremely complicated material, in a very short period of time. His work product was first rate and I think he would have done a terrific job if the case proceeded to trial. He is very articulate and helped us. I only wish we had gotten him involved sooner in the litigation."

    Daniel J. Brown, Reiss Sheppe LLP, New York, NY

  • I thank you all for the response to my request for an expert witness...Both Mr. Scott and Mr. Bianchi appear to be well-qualified for this case, but we have hired another expert. As always, I was impressed by TASA's ability to produce exceptionally well-qualified candidates with great speed."

    John Thomas Dzialo, The Law Offices of John Thomas Dzialo, Santa Ana, CA

  • Thank you for your quick response and the names of the two proposed experts. The situation that gave rise to our search for these experts has resolved and we will not need to retain them. However, we will continue to keep TASA in mind as these needs arise from time to time as your breadth of coverage for experts of all types is unparalleled, in my experience."

    Bart W. Brizzee, County of San Bernadino, San Bernadino, CA

  • I have used TASA for the last five years for locating an expert for many personal injury cases. On each and every occasion, TASA was able to find me more than one qualified expert. With such a variety of experts, I was able to select one who met my client's needs in prosecuting these claims. I found the experts TASA referred not only qualified, but available on a moment's notice. Your fees are reasonable and fair, and I will continue to use TASA for the remainder of my career."

    Robert Oushalem, Esq., The Law Office of Robert Oushalem, San Jose, CA

  • I recently used TASA for the first time to locate an expert to testify in a case requiring rather unusual expertise and where there were no applicable regulations or standards for guidance. TASA referred an expert in California who was everything a lawyer looks for in a forensic expert. He was promptly available for consultation, efficiently prepared for deposition and trial and very persuasive and credible with the jury. TASA's administrative services and assistance in locating this expert were excellent, and we would certainly use both the expert and TASA in the future."

    Theodore Phillips, Miller Hauser Law Group, LLP, Placerville, CA

  • TASA has always given me first-class service, but in a recent matter, TASA found the 'needle-in-the-haystack' expert witness we feared didn't exist. We needed an expert for a very narrow and limited issue in a very narrow and limited industry. Because TASA has an extensive expert witness database, it was able to give us a referral almost on the spot. It's why I always turn to TASA first."

    Kathleen A. Herdell, Law Offices of Kathleen A. Herdell, St. Helena, CA

  • There are numerous companies that provide litigation experts. However, I always choose the TASA Group because of their quick response in finding a qualified expert for my particular case. I have extreme confidence in the TASA Group and will continue to use their services in the future."

    Katie A. Killion, Esq., Chiurazzi & Mengine, LLC, Pittsburgh, PA

  • I spent hours trying to locate an expert in a very technical case involving a defect in a medical device. I could have saved a lot of time by calling TASA first. Within hours, I was supplied with the name of an engineer who had more than 30 years of job training, education and expertise in the precise area involving the device. Bravo TASA!"

    Timothy W. Peach, Partner, Peach & Weathers, San Bernardino, CA

  • We were involved in a case pending for more than five years with seven parties from three states. Three mediations failed before we looked to TASA for an expert. TASA referred an expert who clearly understood the complexity of the project and could effectively support his opinion. If it weren't for his expert advice and deposition testimony, the case would not have settled. Interestingly, the case settled within 90 days from the date this expert began."

    Renee Colbert, Esq., Corporate Counsel, W.G. Tomko, Inc., Finleyville, PA

  • Using TASA to find experts for defending our client in a negligent homicide case ended up being one of the most important decisions we made in trial preparation. The experts they suggested were exactly what we needed for the case. I truly did not expect to find experts that would be such a perfect fit for the nature of case. TASA provided us with highly qualified experts in somewhat narrow fields of expertise. A large percentage of our victory is due to the experts recommended by TASA."

    Marta Farmer, Esq., Carl S. White Law Office, Haver, MT

  • I have used TASA's services since the 1980's and have never been disappointed. TASA is indispensable for locating that hard-to-find expert. TASA representatives have always been courteous and pleasant, with the attitude that they cannot do enough to help. I expect to continue using TASA throughout my career."

    Brad W. Greenberg, Esq., Smyth Law Offices, P.C., Brockton, MA

  • I needed to retain a multitude of scientists from a variety of disciplines for a complex litigation. Initially, I went through a series of interviews with an extremely knowledgeable and professional team of TASA advisors. They were able to find highly qualified experts in the specific fields, all of whom turned out to be superior in qualification and area of expertise to my adversary’s experts. I am a TASA believer!"

    Nooshin Namazi, Partner, Nicoletti Hornig & Sweeney, New York, NY

  • TASA always comes through in the difficult IP cases. Their representatives work with you to refine the search criteria and quickly send you a list of very qualified experts."

    Timothy L. Boller, Principal, Seed Intellectual Property Law Group, PLLC, Seattle, WA

  • Special thanks to our TASA referral advisor for her quick response to our initial request—we were extremely happy with how fast TASA was able to assist us! Your group does excellent work, and it is always my first stop when looking for an expert."

    Susanne K. Sullivan, Senior Attorney, Southwest Airlines Corporation, Dallas, TX

  • When we needed an expert in a patent infringement lawsuit, we turned to TASA. We were looking for a witness qualified in two unrelated technical areas, and TASA worked with us to identify and refine our requirements. TASA performed well, promptly providing us with several excellent candidates to consider, one of whom we retained."

    Joseph T. Miotke, Partner, IP Practice Group, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Milwaukee, WI

  • Our team had a very positive experience with TASA. The Expert was professional, efficient, and certainly an expert in his field. His work and testimony contributed to a winning decision for our client! We will recommend the Expert and TASA whenever appropriate."

    Stephanie Sprague, Esq., CT

  • (The Expert) WAS A PERFECT FIT for my case: qualified, competent, easy to work with, attentive to detail, knowledgeable, smart, communicative, enthusiastic, resourceful—have I left anything out? I highly recommend TASA and would be happy to share my experience with anyone else. Thank you!"

    Michael Porrazzo, Esq., The Porrazzo Law Firm, Mission Viejo, CA

  • The expert was very thorough. TASA was quick to respond with an answer to my request. I have used TASA in the past under various other law firms and have been pleased. TASA continues to live up to expectations and then some."

    Anne Desormier-Cartwright, Esq., Jupiter, FL

  • Your organization found us an appropriate expert witness in less than one day. This was excellent service. The expert you found was excellent and a pleasure to work with."

    William A. Ehrlich, Esq., Allentown, PA

  • (The Expert)…accomplished exactly what we wanted. TASA was very prompt and efficient in locating him. All fees were reasonable."

    J. Michael Lehman, Esq., Bruce, Bruce, & Lehman, Wichita, KS

  • We needed an Internet expert right away to meet a deadline. One phone call to TASA, and in less than a day, TASA called back with a list of 8-10 experts who were exactly what I needed. The TASA expert I chose knew the business and mechanics of the Internet so well—he was a PhD and professor who had written a book on the subject—that he put the fear of truth in the defendant that caused him to settle. When I get the kind of service that I did from TASA, I stick with it and use it again and again."

    Philip Green, Attorney at Law, Green and Green, San Rafael and San Francisco, CA

  • Excellent—in a word. I just do not have the time to hunt for experts. (The Expert) was fantastic. Thank you for providing such a quality service."

    Francesca Carinci, Esq., Steubenville, OH

  • TASA stands for Tops At Serving Attorneys. It’s always rewarding working with TASA."

    Marshall A. Bernstein, Esq., Philadelphia, PA.