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A Novel Use of Interactive Graphics to Prove Construction Defect

A Novel Use of Interactive Graphics to Prove Construction Defect

As litigation graphics consultants, we are sometimes presented with a particularly vexing challenge that has no obvious solution. In the following case, we was asked to demonstrate missing structural steel in a typical fourplex structure built of CMU block in such a way that the jury would appreciate the magnitude of the error by the builder.
In other words, we had to prove a negative.

The more than 100 structures at issue were composed of CMU block walls on a slab topped by reinforced concrete tie beams. The building code specified vertical bars placed in every sixth core tied to the slab and tie beams and horizontal steel laid between every other course.

Our original assignment was to build one or two tabletop physical models with clear plastic blocks to demonstrate all of the specified reinforcement in one section and missing steel in another section. The amount of missing steel to be demonstrated was determined by destructive testing of a statistically significant sampling of several structures.

However, both counsel and the testifying expert also wanted somehow to isolate different kinds of reinforcement for discussion purposes and to be able to either see through walls like x-ray vision or just see the steel by itself without any blocks obscuring the view. Collectively, we decided that physical models were an imperfect solution.

After some experimentation we came up with a novel approach that worked pretty well. For the to-code structure, one of our artists used original building plans and AutoCAD to create a structure, eventually building 14 layers separating the different building materials.

He started with the slab and its reinforcing steel, added CMU blocks, vertical rebar, horizontal steel, concrete-filled cores, tie beams and tie-beam steel, concrete firewalls (another defect issue), stucco, drywall, and trim, windows and doors, roof trusses (another issue), and finally roof sheathing.

On the computer, it was very easy to turn layers on or off to isolate certain materials, which gave me the idea for the deliverable. We rendered each layer and assigned three view options for each layer: “solid,” “transparent” (50-percent opacity), and “off” in Adobe Flash. By selecting any combination of “radio buttons” at the bottom of the display, the expert was able to isolate or combine any of the materials, see through walls, or sequentially build or take apart the structure.

Two presentations were prepared for comparison: to-code and as-built. Several other demonstrative exhibits were designed to illustrate a partially built wall and materials, summaries of the quantity of defects, code and building plan excerpts, and damages calculations. Ultimately, the case settled before trial for more than $50 million.

This is a technique that lends itself to any type of situation that requires sequential building or deconstruction, or selective isolation of one or more building components or materials. If you think you have a case that can benefit from this type of approach, drop [name] a line at Litivate and we’ll happy to help you.

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