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Ethics for Structural Engineers

Lessons in Negligence and Incompetence

(P t 1)
Dave K. Adams,, S.E.
BWE – San Diego, CA

SE University, February 2016

Speaker Bio

 Graduated UCSD 1990

 Lane Engineers,
g Inc. ((Tulare, CA))
 1990 – 2012
 BWE, Inc. (San Diego, CA)
 2012 – Present
 Subject Matter Expert – California Board for
Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors &

Presentation Outline

 Definitions
 A Licensed Professional’s Dutyy
 Examples of Negligence
 Examples
p of Incompetence
 Lessons Learned


 “Negligence”
 Failure by a licensee, in the practice of professional
engineering, to use the care ordinarily exercised in
like cases by duly licensed professional engineers in
good standing.
 What is a “like case”?
 Does an omission demonstrate negligence?
 “Omission” - A failure to do something, especially
something that one has a moral or legal obligation to


 “Incompetence”
 Lack of knowledge or ability in
discharging professional
 Does an error demonstrate
 “Error” – A mistake; the state
or condition of being wrong in
conduct or judgment.


 “Standard of Care”
 In performing professional services for a client, a
professional has the duty to have that degree of
learning and skill ordinarily possessed by reputable
professionals, practicing in the same or similar
locality, and under similar circumstances.

A Licensed Professional’s Duty

 National Council for Examiners of Engineering

and Surveying (NCEES) – “Model Rules of
Professional Conduct”
 “ … to safeguard life, health, and property, to
promote t the
th public
bli welfare,
lf andd tto maintain
i t i a
high standard of integrity and practice …”
 “Th practice
“The ti off professional
f i l engineering
i i and d
land surveying is a privilege, as opposed to a
right ”
A Licensed Professional’s Duty

 “All licensees shall

exercise their privilege
of practicing by
performing services only
in the areas of their
competence according
to current standards of
technical competence.”

A Licensed Professional’s Duty

 “The construction
documents shall be
prepared by a registered
design professional where
required by the statutes of
the jurisdiction in which the
project is to be constructed
(2015 International Building
Code, Section 107.1)

A Licensed Professional’s Duty

 Professional honesty
 To one’s self
 To the Law
 To Clients
 To one’s company
 To colleagues and peers
 To the general public

P ll Q
Poll Question

In your opinion
opinion, can
negligence be intentional?

Examples of Negligence

 Can negligence be intentional?

 Implies that the engineer knowingly fails to follow a
standard of care in exercising duties
 Example 1: An engineer “rubber stamps”
documents intended for construction
 Difficult to prove whether the engineer actually
reviewed the documentation
 A careful review would include checks for code
compliance and justification of engineering

Examples of Negligence

 Sometimes there is a semantic difference

between negligence and incompetence (i.e. a
matter of choosing between two very close
definitions that an action could be qualified as)
 The
Th term
t “incompetence”
“i t ” implies
i li th the person did
NOT know something, whereas “negligence” implies
the person DID know something g but failed to
exercise it
 Which is worse?
 Does
D it matter?
tt ?
Examples of Negligence

 Example 2: A note on a set of drawings for the

conventional wood-frame construction of a
residence states, “Brace Wall Panels &
alternative Braced Wall Panels are to be per
2502 11 4 ” This note refers to an older
CBC 2502.11.4.
(non-adopted) edition of the Uniform Building
Code – the appropriate code contains the noted
information in Section 2320.

Examples of Negligence

 The note was not consistent with the adopted

building code
 The code from one cycle earlier had the wood-
framing requirements in a completely different
 The level of confidence in the accuracy of the
drawings is decreased when older publications are
 Did the engineer review the information?

Examples of Negligence

 The requirements between codes

were technically very similar
 One reason that the act was
deemed to be “negligent” and not
 However, had the technical
information between codes been
different, a deficient structure would
have been constructed, and the act
would have been “incompetent”

Examples of Negligence

 Example 3: A drawing for a seismic retrofit

project shows a new 10" thick concrete shear
wall, but this new wall was not incorporated into
the structural retrofit three-dimensional building
analytical model by the engineer
engineer. The added
stiffness of this new wall would have the effect
of redistributing applied seismic forces in a way
that has not been accounted for in the design.

Examples of Negligence

 ACI 318 requires

consideration of all elements
that will have an effect on how
seismic forces are distributed
throughout a building
 The engineer demonstrated
o edge o of how
o st
uctu es a
retrofit for earthquakes, but this
seemed to be an (important)
omission (“negligence”)
( negligence )
Examples of Incompetence

 Example 1: A construction detail indicates ½” diameter

anchor bolts at 48” on center from the top of a concrete
wall to wood plates at a horizontal diaphragm intended
for out-of-plane anchorage. Section 8.2.3 of the
National Design Specification for Wood Construction
shows that the total resisting force available for (2) 2x
wood plates is 490 lbs/bolt x 1.33 / 4’ on center = 163
plf. This is less than 200 p
p plf,, which is the minimum
required by Section 1611.4 of the Uniform Building
Code for service-level anchorage forces.

Examples of Incompetence

 The calculated capacity is

close, so why the big deal?
 Because it is incorrect
 The engineer hasn’t
demonstrated knowledge of
code requirements
 Top
p of wall anchorage g for
seismic events has been
shown to be critically
important to life safety

Examples of Incompetence

 Example 2: A common line of lateral force

resistance exists between the new and existing
portions of a building with an addition, but the
engineer did not design this wall line to resist
both sets of forces
forces. There are insufficient details
included to demonstrate a continuous load path
for collecting and distributing lateral forces
forces, as is
required by Section 1605.2 of the International
Building Code.

Examples of Incompetence

 Additions for existing structures can be tricky

 There is a capacity already built in that might require
retrofit if that existing portion is affected by the change
 Wind and seismic stability might be defined by BOTH
the addition and the existing structure
 Lateral loads don’t discriminate between structures –
there must be a continuous load path
 The engineer demonstrated a lack of knowledge in how
lateral forces are resisted by buildings

Examples of Incompetence

 Example 3: Section of ASCE 7 requires
seismic loads to be
distributed vertically on
steel storage racks in a
specific manner in order to
properly address increased
acceleration at upper levels.
The engineer did not follow
these requirements.
Examples of Incompetence

 Did the engineer “simply”

forget something in the
design process, or is the error
showing an “I’ve always done
way attitude?
it this way”
 We cannot read the engineer’s mind
 Who deserves the benefit of doubt
(“innocent until proven guilty”)?

Lessons Learned

 Make sure notes and specifications are up to date

 Don’tinstruct the contractor to build something using
an outdated or non-adopted building code
 Make sure construction details are up to date
 Don’tassume that all code requirements have
remained the same
 Your original details might also be deficient if they
were assembled without analysis

Lessons Learned

 Produce drawings that

demonstrate knowledge
of structural principles
 Complete load paths
 Positive
P iti anchorage
 Solid supports
 Proper (and complete)
code references

Lessons Learned

 Produce drawings that are

clear and readable (the
design intent can be
 Detail
D t ilkkeys
 Cross-sections
 Enlarged plan views

 Clear communication is
Ethics for Structural Engineers
Lessons in Negligence and Incompetence
(P t 1)
Dave K. Adams,, S.E.
BWE – San Diego, CA

SE University, February 2016


Which Term related to ethics is the answer to this

session’s Challenge Question?

A. Incompetence
B. Negligence
C. Standard of Care
D. Honesty

Please circle the ans

er that is anno
nced so that you
o can use
se the
information to complete the quiz for your PDH.

Related Interests