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A jury found an architect liable for the personal injuries sustained by a city employee who fell though the attic floor of the city garage that was designed by the defendant. The flooring was supported by number two pine 2 x 8s. One of them broke under the weight of the city worker due to a large knot that weakened it.

The appellate court reversed the judgment because the plaintiff did not present expert testimony showing that the architect had deviated in its design from the industry standards. Plaintiff argued that the architect should not have specified pine floor joists. His own expert witness testified, however, that number two pine was the most common type of wood used in the construction industry and was standard for loadbearing joists even though they have knots.

Plaintiff’s expert reviewed the calculations that were prepared by the engineer for the defendant architect, and determined that the building code had been consulted by the engineer and that the wood joists included a significant safety factor in their load calculations. Although the expert testified that a knot would weaken the wood, he did not testify that the specifications deviated from the acceptable industry standards. In fact, from his testimony it would be concluded that the engineering calculations satisfied the industry standards. For these reasons, the court found that the jury verdict lacked a rational basis and that the trial court should have granted a directed verdict in favor of the defendant. Columbus v. Smith & Mahoney, P.C. , No. 82650, 1999 N.Y. App. Div. Lexis 2342.

Article Copyright 1999, ConstructionRisk.com, LLC – Virginia.

About the author: Article written by J. Kent Holland, Jr.,  a construction lawyer located in Tysons Corner, Virginia,  with a national practice (formerly with Wickwire Gavin, P.C. and now with Construction Risk Counsel, PLLC) representing design professionals, contractors and project owners.  He is founder and president of a consulting firm, ConstructionRisk, LLC, providing consulting services to owners, design professionals, contractors and attorneys on construction projects.  He is publisher of ConstructionRisk.com Report and may be reached at Kent@ConstructionRisk.com or by calling 703-623-1932.  This article is published in ConstructionRisk.com Report, Vol. 1, No. 1 (April 1999).