This case involves a large residential home in California that was surveyed by a professional engineer following a storm. The house sustained significant foundational damages after being hit by a utility pole that came down during the storm. The homeowners hired a structural engineer to review and assess the damage. The engineer noted extensive damage and indicated that major repairs were needed which would take several years to complete. After the renovations were completed, the homeowners put the house up for sale. A couple with 3 children were very interested in purchasing the home and were informed about the repaired damage. Before making the decision to purchase the property, the individual hired the same engineer who originally assessed the damages to review the house, the damage done, and the repairs made. The engineer concluded that the house was structurally sound and did not recommend any repairs. Because of the positive report results, the couple purchased the home. Within 9 months of purchase, the couple began to notice cracks in the foundation of the house. The same engineer was consulted to write another report on the house. The engineer described the damages as extensive and assessed the repair value at $115,000. An expert in structural engineering was sought to review the case and opine on whether or not the engineer was negligent in failing to advise the couple about future repairs.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Please describe your experience as an engineer inspecting residential homes.
- 2. When a home sustains damage such as this to its foundation, what is the likelihood that future repairs will be necessary as time goes on?
- 3. What duty did the engineer have to advise the individual that extensive foundation repairs may be needed in the future?
Expert Witness Response E-008597
I have a Ph.D. in structural engineering and I have been a professional engineer and OSHA instructor for 46 years. I formerly served as a home inspector in a northeast state. This case sounds like a foundation problem and like there are likely drainage issues. I would have to look at all three of the engineer’s reports and how the inspections were written up. I would need to look at the differences between the two reports before speaking to any negligence there may have been.
Expert Witness Response E-199320
I have made structural engineering assessments of hundreds of residential structures and I have reviewed tree damages to residential structures that have radiated all the way to the foundation. If the repairs were made to the foundation following the tree impact, there may have been out of plane forces that were loading the wall if the wall was no longer plumb. When a home sustains damage such as this to its foundation, it is not very likely that future repairs will be necessary as time goes on. The duty of the engineer to advise the individual that extensive repairs would be needed depends on what evidence was available to draw this conclusion.