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Berkeley Balcony Tragedy

Discussion in 'Architects & Engineers' started by conarb, Apr 26, 2016.

  1. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    The investigation of this tragedy continues, the State Contractors' License Board is sanctioning several fo the contractors involved, but the District Attorney is not prosecuting them criminally, there are now Senate Hearings and the architects' board is going to be disciplining the architects. I decided to put this information here in the architects' forum but it covers several areas, ADA requirements, the use of cheaper materials, and inspection requirements as to moisture content and manufactured wood sealer in light of the experts' investigations.

    And we start to get into it:

    Consequences of LBJ's stupid Civil Rights Act to make everybody equal, "people with disabilities" must have "architectural barriers" removed (even in existing structures) so there can be no step down to decks, I see this coming to single family too as obnoxious Disability Activists are demanding "visitability" codes for single family homes, Austin Texas is the first city nationally to start imposing them.

    They are going to hold the architects responsible for specifying "a cheaper laminated wood beam and called for it to be notched two inches before it extended out from the building's main structure.", I think we determined that the end joists were LVLs and not PSLs?

    Apparently all "Manufactured wood products also require wood sealer to be applied to areas that have been cut open to further prevent water intrusion", I've never used LVLs, PSLs, or OSB, but I have used lots of Glue Lams, I've never sealed the cuts in Glue Lams, do you guys who have inspected these other "manufactured wood products" require they seal the cut surfaces?

    I've never seen an inspector carry a moisture meter, I've never even had an inspector ask me if I had checked the moisture content before closing in a building, a building in the framing stages could be delayed months waiting for the lumber to dry down unless the builder hired one fo those fire/flood restoration companies to seal the houses up and install those huge drying fans to dry them out.

    This could get interesting, even though the District Attorney is not criminally prosecuting the contractors will she prosecute the architects criminally? The article just refers to administrative sanctions. If so will the architects put the blame on the city for requiring cheap construction to comply with their "affordable housing" requirements and their money-losing mixed use requirements? As I've said before, liability should run clear back to BlackRock, the hedge fund that set the unrealistically low budget. Will the city be held liable for failure of the building inspector to check the moisture content of the wood at framing inspection?

    ¹ http://www.eastbaytimes.com/news/ci_29811157/berkeley:-scrutiny-turns-to-balcony-design-during-state-senate-hearing
     
  2. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    From a prior Senate hearing on code changes.

    Today's paper reports that the civil action has been settled, the reason the case settled out quickly is that Seque is bankrupt and the attorneys must have determined that they can't pierce the corporate veil and get to the owners' personal assets and their liability carrier has tendered policy limits allowing them to walk away with no more legal expenses,strange that there is no mention of subcontractors like framing, waterproofing, flashing, etc.

    To summarize, there are three types of actions, criminal, and the DA has determined there they couldn't prove criminal intent (like FBI Director Comey and Hillary), administrative, the Contractors' License Board has revoked Segue's license, and the big one, civil, the damaged parties have settled for policy limits.

    The case is going to proceed against the remaining deep pockets, the owner hedge fund BlackRock and the management company. Unfortunately we will find out no more construction defect information since the remaining defendants were not involved in the actual construction.

    This is just plain wrong: "The company was accused of using cheaper, weaker material on the balcony than plans specified during construction from 2005 to 2007. That material became waterlogged after a sub-subcontractor failed to install a membrane to keep out moisture." If you recall the plans called for plywood sheathing on the deck and Segue substituted cheaper OSB, this case is about these deaths only, had Segue installed plywood it would have lasted longer and these five people would not have been killed, this civil case doesn't consider the fact that plywood would have eventually failed potentially killing a different group of people, but this is a civil case to collect damages for these people. As I recall Seque installed LVLs at the ends that failed, I don't think LVLs are cheaper than anything specified, Berkeley is changing it's code to require steel there and the state to require PT material. The fact that they say "sub-subcontractor failed to install a membrane to keep out moisture." is wrong, anyone can clearly see the Bituthene is clearly hanging there so it was installed, they didn't even go to workmanship and the fact that Bituthene was an approved deck waterproofing material at the time the plans were drawn, but Grace withdrew that approval prior to the time of permit issuance, so the issue of any liability on the part of the city or architect for not informing Segue of the withdrawal of the approval was never even approached, bad lawyering or what, it's my opinion that they should have tried to get to the deeper pockets of the city and the architect, I would try to make the case, win or lose but try, that it's the responsibility of both building departments and architects to stay current on building material specifications, the lawyers may have considered that but decided that the burden of keeping current was too much and decided to not even try.



    ¹ http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/04/25/berkeley-scrutiny-turns-to-balcony-design-during-state-senate-hearing/

    ² http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/05/05/berkeley-plaintiffs-reach-settlement-in-deadly-balcony-collapse/
     
  3. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    The state has released the evidence that they used to revoke the contractor's license, it comes down to the use of OSB instead of plywood, rain during construction saturated the OSB causing the joists below to rot out.

    Bottom line, OSB can't get wet during construction.


    ¹ http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/06/01/berkeley-state-releases-documents-on-cause-of-deadly-balcony-collapse/
     
  4. Mark K

    Mark K Platinum Member

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    If as some suggest the problem was the result of the OSB getting wet during construction I would expect the water to be uniformly distributed which would lead to uniformly distributed rot. But what we see is the rot being concentrated several feet from the face of the wall apparently near the termination of the flashing.
     
  5. tmurray

    tmurray Sawhorse

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  6. steveray

    steveray Sawhorse

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    So let me get this straight...You want a smaller government, but you want every building inspector to know the exact approvals at any given moment for every product in existence? How bout the people using it know how to use it instead?
     
  7. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    Steve:

    I see your point, the problem is that we have architects and engineers specifying an ever growing number of products that are being approved, we end up an increasingly unknowledgeable workforce installing them. Maybe the architects specifying them should take responsibility?
     
  8. Mark K

    Mark K Platinum Member

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    Architects and engineers do take responsibility for the products they specify while building officials and those working for him have essentially no liability.

    If a product is addressed in the code and if it is being used as provided for in the code there is no need for approval. The building official is required to allow these products.
     
  9. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    Mark:

    I skimmed through the report(s) and don't agree with them, remember this is a license board proceeding to revoke Segue's contractors' license. I am not reading anything about disciplinary proceedings against other subcontractors like the lath, sheet metal, and waterproofing contractors.

    Waterproofing decks has always been a problem for me and others, I have one going now where a deck started leaking after a few years of no problems and have been trying to figure out a way to trace the leak that keeps moving around, disappears for a year or two then returns. The report states that they used infrared technology, I am told you can't use infrared since it only "looks" 1mm into the surface, how do they know that it wasn't active leaks in the flashing joints of the deck to wall and the french door pan? Much of that was all destroyed in the collapse and joints would have been pulled apart in the collapse even if they hadn't failed ad initio causing the problem? The same goes for the Bituthene waterproofing, there must have been all kinds of tears and holes in it, how could they know that it hadn't failed prior to the collapse?

    Apparently Segue hired no experts in it's defense, I have to assume they knew they were going to lose the license so they decided not to spend any money in their defense, the License Board had them in substituting OSB for the specified plywood, they were guilty of that without question, I think the license Board's experts were just trying to pin the failure on the indisputable statutory violation. I also agree with you that had it been due to saturated OSB, and not active leaks, that the damage would have been more uniform all over the substructure and not confined to the areas against the building.

    The architect specifies it, the contractor installs it, the city inspects it, who should be liable for failure?
     
  10. Mark K

    Mark K Platinum Member

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    Who is liable depends on the cause of the problem except by statute the city is not responsible. The architect will be liable if the design was the faulty. The contractor is responsible if the work was not in conformance with the construction documents. In some cases there may be shared responsibility.

    In addition the building owner may be liable. Assume a situation where either the contractor or the architect were the cause of a problem that the owner was aware of but the owner failed to correct and as a result there were other problems. The architect and or the contractor would be liable for correcting the original problem but the owner would be liable for the additional problems resulting from a failure to correct the problem.

    It has been suggested that the owner and or its management company had knowledge that there were water problems but took no action. In this case you could argue that the owner or his agent was responsible for the loss of life.
     
  11. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    The interesting thing here is that W.R. Grace had approvals for Bituthene when it was specified by the architect and when the plans were approved, but Grace withdrew the approval as a deck waterproofing prior to the actual construction. I think when a manufacturer goes so far as to withdraw approval of a product there should be some requirement to notify architects and/or AHJs. Of course if the experts are right here the Bituthene and nothing to do with the failure.
     
  12. tmurray

    tmurray Sawhorse

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    Just keep in mind that the Architects, Engineers and to some extent contractors have some control over which materials they are using. I don't unless it violates the code.

    I guess the questions is does every building inspector need to know every product's installation instructions?

    Subcontractors can't read the instructions and it's the only thing they do.
     
    steveray likes this.
  13. ADAguy

    ADAguy Sawhorse

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    You just hit a nail on the head, with many projects being CM - Multiple Prime with no superintendents and many workers for whom English is not their native language and architects not being retained for CA, these types of problems happen.
     

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