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ASFE Publishes Four More Case Histories

April 28, 2006

ASFE/The Best People on Earth has added four new case histories to its collection, bringing its total to 90. “These cases demonstrate how geoprofessional, environmental, and civil engineering firms get caught up in disputes and litigation,” said ASFE Executive Vice President John P. Bachner. “We publish them because, over the years, they have been marvelous educational tools. We know for a fact that ‘those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeating mistakes of the past.’”

In ASFE Case History No. 87, a long-term, significant client – a regional grocery store chain – was replacing an existing outlet in a somewhat remote area. The store was one of the client’s less profitable, so the owner’s representative encouraged all involved with design and construction to keep costs low. Unfortunately, the general contractor seemed somewhat distracted, as did the architect. As a consequence, the ASFE member firm – engaged to provide geotechnical engineering and construction materials engineering and testing (CoMET) services – had to deal with an inadequate submittal review process and poor scheduling. The member decided to not make waves about the situation, and that was a mistake: The new pavement system failed before construction was complete. Ultimately, the member firm got aggressively involved in problem mitigation, preventing a bad situation from becoming worse. Still, the member firm had to contribute about $70,000 to recognize its own performance shortcomings, but – by using meditation – it salvaged its relationship with the client.

ASFE Case History No. 88 chronicles how an ASFE member firm performed a geotechnical engineering study for a 35-lot subdivision. The developer – a long-time client – sold the land and development plans to a colleague. The colleague developer then sold one of the lots to a homebuilder. As it so happens, the homebuilder’s lot was located on an ancient landslide. Concerned by the situation, local authorities told the homebuilder to contact the ASFE member firm, under the mistaken belief that the member firm still was the geoetechnical engineer of record. The member firm responded promptly, sending a field representative to the site to perform a few basic services. Member firm personnel assumed the homebuilder was developing the lot more or less as the firm had originally called for, and that was a bad mistake. It cost the ASFE member firm $65,000 to extricate itself from a situation it should not have gotten involved in to begin with.

ASFE Case History No. 89 relates what happened after a major health maintenance organization (HMO) engaged an ASFE member firm to conduct a geoetechnical engineering study for a new office building the HMO planned to build on a site underlain by old fill and expansive soil. The client clearly was concerned by the subsurface conditions, and that caused the member firm – also engaged to provide construction materials engineering and testing (CoMET) services – to work directly with the contractor when its geoetechnical recommendations were overridden by the architect and the owner’s staff engineer. The member firm’s failure to take a more diplomatic approach caused reactions that forced it to “go along to get along.” It continued to serve, buy only to evaluate construction for compliance with the specifications as written. Because those specifications were inadequate, serious pavement distress occurred, followed by a dispute. When mediation failed to resolve the dispute, the member firm figured it could be in for a protracted problem, despite having a limitation of liability provision in its agreement with the HMO. Fortunately, the ASFE member firm’s worst fears were not realized, but that was a stroke of luck.

Any number of ASFE case histories show that risk is inversely proportional to fee. ASFE Case History No. 90 does likewise. In this case, the member firm’s project manager studied a problem site that the owner purchased at a discount, and developed an economic means of making the land usable for a new factory. The owner declined the member firm’s field services, however, and instead vested that responsibility in the earthwork contractor. Later, the contractor and the owner’s representative called the project manager, asking him to significantly reduce cut-and-fill requirements because the contractor’s representative said he was encountering “pretty good material.” Not fond of the owner’s representative at this point, the project manager said, “Go ahead,” without even bothering to visit the site. Soon after construction, the new plant’s floor slab began to crack and move, and the project manager knew why. The bad news: It cost the member firm $200,000 to correct the problem. The good news: Were it not for the firm’s fast, aggressive response, the loss could have been far, far worse.

The four new case histories can be ordered from ASFE’s on-line bookshop at www.asfe.org. They sell for $15.00 each.

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