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Design professionals scrutinized in high-rise flaws and tragedy

On Behalf of | Nov 18, 2021 | Firm News |

Construction defects can be incredibly complex to dissect, as can construction-defect litigation. In California, those lawsuits can involve allegations of professional malpractice, negligence, errors and omissions by design professionals and others in the construction industry.  Further, these various claims can implicate several different types of insurance policies, like commercial general liability (CGL), professional liability, builder’s risk, and contractor’s pollution liability, to name just a few.

Some of those issues are in play in San Francisco’s tallest residential high-rise, downtown’s Millennium Tower. The 58-story structure turned 12 earlier this year, but celebrations were likely dampened by the ongoing saga of its sinking.

Sinking, Tilting

Five years ago, residents were told that their homes are both sinking and tilting. By February of this year, the Millennium had sunk 17 inches and tilted toward the northwest by two inches at its base.

Following resolution of the resulting construction defect and design claims, a multimillion-dollar construction project launched recently to fix the problem. However, the repair project came to an abrupt halt after it was determined that the building has dropped another inch.

Construction crews are expected to soon restart work to install 52 perimeter piles that will go all the way down to bedrock. Engineers believe the piles will substantially improve the sinking and tilting issues.

However, the continuing sinking of the project during the repair effort raises questions, both about the design of the repair, as well as about the repair work itself.  Those questions in turn implicate the policies in place to cover the repair project (likely some form of a wrap up) and the design of the repairs (like professional liability policies).

Flaws Led To Tragedy

A recent article in Interesting Engineering listed several high-rises with notable flaws that resulted in a wide range of consequences, from steep financial costs to catastrophe and tragedy.

Among those listed was, of course, Surfside Condominiums. A portion of the Florida structure collapsed early on a June morning this year. The bodies of 98 residents were recovered over the next two weeks.

“Causes of the disaster: Humans,” said the publication.

Three years before the collapse, an engineer had found “major structural damage” to the slab beneath the building’s pool and cracks and crumbling pillars in the underground parking garage.

It is obvious that it will take a long time to sort out all the legal issues associated with a tragedy of this magnitude.  But some of these reports raise questions about the investigation of the building’s existing condition by engineers and other design professionals.  Those questions naturally lead in the direction of those design professionals’ respective professional liability policies.  Those insurance coverage questions will likely take time to sort out, too.