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Latent Design Defects: Hard to Detect, Hard to Remedy

Good design practices incorporate both aesthetic and functional considerations, as well as factors such as structural soundness and long term maintenance requirements. Overlooking or disregarding any of these elements may constitute negligence or failure on the part of the architects, designers, or engineers involved in a building project to recognize and disclose risks associated with the design.

A latent design defect is a hidden or concealed flaw in a design that exists before it is discovered. Unfortunately, poor or faulty design decisions are often hard to detect during construction. In fact, the majority of latent defects only appear after a building is occupied, and unless the defect is serious, many occupants will not even report the defect to authorities. For example, a tenant may notice a crack in a wall or ceiling, but unless it is leaking or causing a draft, he or she may be unlikely to notify the landlord.

However, a crack in a wall may be evidence of a much bigger problem. A cantilevered deck that is inadequately supported places significant stress on other portions of a structure, causing damage such as cracks in walls. Injuries and even deaths have occurred in apartment deck collapses. Thus, in some instances, building owners and occupants who take issue with what may seem like a minor latent defect could prevent a major catastrophe.

Exposing Latent Design Defects

An article published by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that designers do not dedicate adequate effort to eliminating latent defects from their designs. For example, designers may fail to sufficiently consider weather impact, impacts from occupants, and moisture from wet areas when designing a structure–all of which can lead to latent design defects. The researchers went on to find that certain design strategies could prevent future defects, including:

  • Checking building material performance against adverse weather conditions rather than normal weather conditions
  • Taking greater measures to prevent water leakage
  • Improving specifications
  • Improving design clarity, details, and layout

When architects, designers, or engineers fail to satisfy the functional requirements of a design, or when they fail to recognize, eliminate, or disclose potential risks associated with a design, the result can be a serious latent design defect for which they should be held accountable.

Design Defect Expert Witness

If you have discovered a latent design defect in a building that you occupy or own, or if you are involved in such a case, and need an expert to advise you or appear as a witness, contact Engineering Expert Witness for a free initial consultation. Pierre Handl, P.E. evaluates disasters in California and nationwide to identify their cause and determine whether design or construction played a role in the catastrophe.

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