Discussion: View Thread

  • 1.  Design engineers documentation of construction--liability and responsibility

    Posted 04-29-2024 01:38 PM

    Recently the Claim Reduction column included a warning against taking photo overviews when doing a structural review, link is at end of post.

    As a designer and later inspector, I always operated with the belief that there was no such thing as too many photos.

    When taking close ups an overview is often required to show where the close up is, some items are easier to see in a photo and may have been missed during the field visit.  You might miss something during the review of your photos, but the documentation of the construction process is important and useful, or so I thought. 

    What is your experience?  Would you recommend a different way to avoid claims than avoiding taking overview photos as a reviewer and/or inspector?


    Sarah Halsey P.E., M.ASCE
    New York NY

  • 2.  RE: Design engineers documentation of construction--liability and responsibility

    Posted 04-30-2024 10:18 AM


    I'm interested to see what others have to say, because I had a similar thought when reading the article. When I was younger, there were a few times that I brought photos back and the engineer of record noticed something I didn't even know to look for yet. Other times, I've found things that I didn't notice in the field.

    I've also been in a situation where overview photos weren't taken, and without them the photographer couldn't remember exactly where a photo was taken for us to write the report.

    I understand that there can be risk with having a lot of photos, but it seems to me that there is a give and take either way.

    More photos - maybe you document something you didn't actually see. Fewer photos - maybe you miss something you could have caught. 

    As engineers, we assume some level of risk no matter what we're doing. If you want to totally avoid any liability, you can't really be a practicing engineer. I personally think the best thing to do is document everything you need to document, and then be thorough in the review of that documentation - you may catch something you missed on site.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 3.  RE: Design engineers documentation of construction--liability and responsibility

    Posted 05-01-2024 10:25 AM

    Hi Heidi, 

    Your experience and thoughts mirror mine.

    Thinking about this made me consider the contract that the design engineer has signed.  Usually contracts are written to protect the design engineer from mistakes made during construction due to the contractor's lack of knowledge.  Both the contractor who installed the façade and the GC should know that shoring removal will allow the beams to deflect more than they would deflect due to the installation of the façade alone.  

    Instead of protecting ourselves through reducing our services we should consider language that allows the review by the design engineer to be protected from contractor ignorance of common practice in the contract.  

    As you say, risk is inherent in taking on engineering projects.  And structural engineers take on a disproportionate amount of risk in contracts, but reducing our ability to review a project to protect ourselves does not seem like the answer.

    Sarah Halsey P.E., M.ASCE
    New York NY

  • 4.  RE: Design engineers documentation of construction--liability and responsibility

    Posted 05-02-2024 12:56 PM

    This feels like a topic the ASCE could beneficially take on to help it's members. 

    Meanwhile, it would be great to hear from some English engineer-lawyers on how practitioners can navigate this potential minefield. 

    In the olden days, writing privileged and confidential on material offered some level of protection. Does this hold water and how would one apply in the digital age?

    Mitch Winkler P.E.(inactive), M.ASCE
    Houston, TX