Miscommunication Leads to Building Collapse

Building Collapse Case

A 1950s commercial building collapsed during building renovations, resulting in a million dollar lawsuit. EDT analyzed the renovation process and the actions of multiple parties to provide expert testimony in court. 

The timeline

  • In the spring of 2015, soils in the basement of the commercial building were excavated, and a portion of the foundation along the west side wall was exposed. The excavator informed the general contractor of the exposure; however, the general contractor did not relay the information up the chain.  
  • In early summer 2015, horizontal separations occurred in the west basement wall. 
  • The general contractor and engineer discussed the separations and how to secure the west basement wall. The engineer and general contractor decided (on behalf of the developer) that temporary shoring should be installed, with permanent shoring to be installed soon after. 
  • During the installation of the permanent shoring, the base of the west wall slid inward and the building collapsed.

The Litigation Support Assignment

EDT acted as a consultant to the insurance company and attorney for the excavator.

EDT Expert Testimony 

During the discovery process, it became clear that the general contractor and engineer miscommunicated several times. The engineer testified as to what he “thought” the general contractor had done in the field. And, the general contractor testified as to what he “thought” the engineer had advised. Written and direct communication between the two parties was inadequate. 

EDT testified that if information was properly communicated on the job site, and assumptions were not made, the collapse could have been avoided.

The Findings

A jury trial resolved the dispute. The jury ruled in favor of EDT's client, determining the excavator fulfilled his role - informing the general contractor of the conditions he encountered while performing his tasks. In contrast, the jury decided that the general contractor and engineer did not act in the best interest of the developer. They awarded $1 million to the building owner to be paid by both the engineer and general contractor. 

This case study illustrates that a breakdown in the communication flow can have significant consequences on construction projects. Hierarchies exist on construction sites, and information needs to be communicated accordingly. It must be communicated downstream from the developer and design team, and upstream from the subcontractors and general contractor. 

Learn more about EDT's approach to litigation support, commercial damages, and construction conflicts.