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Commonly Alleged Site Civil Engineering Defects

Commonly Alleged Site Civil Engineering Defects

June 15, 2020

Across the United States, increased development continues to lead to an increase in construction defect litigation, particularly for multifamily for-sale projects. Previous studies developed a larger list of commonly cited construction defects including alleged structural engineering, building envelope, and civil engineering defects as well as alleged roof and fire protection defects. [1] Additional review was completed by William McConnell relative to frequently disputed contract sections within the 2017 AIA A201 General Conditions section. [2]

Analysis of Construction Defect Cases Related to Site Civil Engineering

Research completed at VERTEX in 2018 and 2019 builds on previous research that identified common construction defects as discussed above and suggested the majority of common construction defects generally relate to keeping water out of or flowing away from a building or structure. This research, therefore, focused its analysis on defects related to site civil engineering. In this specific study, site civil engineering generally includes grading, drainage, and utilities. We analyzed 43 construction defect cases litigated between 2012 and 2019, which include issues related to site civil design and construction in and around buildings. We used these findings in an effort to begin to quantify the economic impact of site civil issues and alleged construction defects on commercial and residential projects.

This study aimed to further analyze the risk related to civil engineering as quantified by the frequency and financial impact of commonly occurring defects. Failure to properly design and/or install site civil elements outside of a structure could result in financial and professional exposure. A large number of common defects are alleged in multiple projects across multiple years and the occurrence of the alleged defects is increasing. This study identifies the alleged defects designers and constructors should be aware of as a mechanism to mitigate their exposure to disputes.

Analyzed Construction Defect Case Statistics

Forty-three construction defect cases occurring between 2012 and 2019 were studied. These cases were selected because they all have at least one site civil issue, data were available for the specific civil engineering issues that were cited as defective, and, in 11 of the cases, cost data were available and allocated to each of the cited civil engineering issues. These associated repair costs were analyzed to begin to quantify the financial risk associated with such design.

Thirty-seven of the litigation cases studied were residential projects, 33 of which were located in Colorado and four in Texas. Based on the percentage of Colorado cases, the data are biased toward residential cases within the state of Colorado. The other six cases studied were commercial projects, with three located in New York and New Jersey, two located in Colorado, and one located in Wyoming. Each of these cases represents a dispute where a defect was alleged and the designers and/or contractors were named.

Summary of Construction Defect Research Findings

  • Inadequate grade adjacent to the foundation was cited in 92% of the residential cases reviewed and 33% of the commercial cases reviewed.
  • Noncompliant management of concentrated flows was cited in 81% of the residential and half of the commercial cases reviewed.
  • Residential cases also had high occurrence rates in the following:
    • Site structures inhibiting drainage (76%)
    • Non-compliant slope of concrete (49%)
    • Differential concrete movement (59%)

Additional findings include:

  • Data suggest, on average, a residential case will have more than twice as many cited defects than a commercial case and, generally, the commercial cases studied tended to have less commonly cited defects and more engineering-specific-related defects.
  • Data suggest, in residential construction in Colorado, significant risks may be associated with site civil design requirements for civil engineers, general contractors, and/or subcontractors.
  • A notable observable trend is that the number of commonly alleged civil-related defects is inversely proportional to the overall percentages of repair costs related to the alleged civil defects. This is directly related to the other observed trend where residential cases cite a higher number of alleged defects involving other disciplines when compared to commercial projects, which tend to cite fewer alleged defects.
  • Finally, knowing the frequency of specific civil engineering defect issues helps engineers and contractors to focus attention on high-frequency issues and their coordination. Specifically, coordination between design and construction related to grading away from the building as well as proper documentation of design and installation may help to reduce or resolve disputes on residential projects in Colorado.

Further information can be found in the complete study published on the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) website. [3]

To learn more about VERTEX’s Civil Engineering Design or Expert Witness services or to speak with an Engineering Expert, call 888.298.5162 or submit an inquiry


[1] Brogan, E., McConnell, W., & Clevenger, C. M. (2018). Emerging Patterns in Construction Defect Litigation: Survey of Construction Cases. Journal of Legal Affairs and Dispute Resolution in Engineering and Construction, 10(4).

[2] McConnell, W., & Clevenger, C. M. (2018). Frequently Disputed Sections within the AIA A201–2017 General Conditions. Journal of Legal Affairs and Dispute Resolution in Engineering and Construction, 10(4), 03718002.

[3] VanDemark, L., & Clevenger, C. M. (2020). Site Civil Issues within Construction Defect Litigation. Journal of Legal Affairs and Dispute Resolution in Engineering and Construction, 12(3), 05020009.

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