Advantage of early retention of expert witnesses

Proceedings cover
The Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of Invited Attorneys, which will be published in late May, features a two-part discussion of the elevated canopy walkway collapse at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in 2008.

Coming up at Schinnerer’s Annual Meeting of Invited Attorneys, May 26-27, 2016, will be a two-part presentation regarding the 2008 collapse of the canopy walkway at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. The project was still under construction when one construction worker was killed and 18 others were injured during the pouring of concrete on the elevated walkway. The first part will feature a discussion by the attorney that hired the forensic engineering firm that helped investigate the collapse. The second part will feature the forensic engineer’s perspective on the collapse.

One reason you want to quickly identify and retain the best expert available is that all of the other parties involved will also be looking for experts. Delays may prevent you from retaining the expert you want as they may have already committed to another potential defendant. In addition, project owners are often eager to complete the project as quickly as possible, and this will reduce the time to examine the scene before conditions are changed.

The attorney for the architect that designed the walkway quickly retained an expert with forensic engineering experience as well as experience designing new projects and strengthening existing buildings. This real-life experience increases the credibility of the expert. The forensic engineer also had an excellent relationship with the superintendent of the general contracting firm, which aided the engineer’s ability to access and investigate the site.

The forensic engineer’s findings, supported by the investigations of others, confirmed that the architect was free from liability. There were no design or construction contract administration deficiencies that contributed to the collapse, which was determined to have been the result of construction means and methods. Numerous lawsuits were filed against various defendants (the owner, general contractor, several subcontractors, the structural engineer, and the engineering firm that prepared the temporary shoring design), but the architect was never named in any of the lawsuits. Had the architect waited until years after the collapse to retain a forensic expert, the result may not have been as favorable.

The papers and presentations from this year’s meeting will not be available until Thursday, May 26. The full papers with the details of the investigation into this collapse will be available at that time. If you’d like to read papers from past meetings (limited to current policyholder and broker access only), visit our website for select papers and presentations.

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