Building Inspectors as Expert Witnesses
An expert witness is someone with masterful knowledge in a particular area who is called to testify during litigation before the court, and in particular, can give a professional opinion and conclusion. This is different from a fact witness, who can only give facts during litigation, and also different from being a consultant, who advises paying clients regarding their area of expertise.
A building inspector can act as an expert witness for a case involving building codes, regulations, and violations.
Roles and qualifications of an expert witness
In general, an expert witness presents an Expert Witness Report after performing an inspection of the relevant site. The report is ideally convincing enough so that the opposition will decide to settle out of court instead. This can save the parties involved in court the cost of further proceedings and litigation.
To be clear, an expert witness can be hired by either a defendant, a plaintiff, or by the court. As such, there can be two opposing expert witnesses for a case. Both of them should be objective and neutral with respect to the outcome of the case.
When it comes to qualifications, an expert witness should have established credentials in the relevant field that would aid in the development of the case. They should show knowledge, skill, experience, training and education, and other signs of expertise that can be meaningful to any of the parties involved in a lawsuit.
Usually, an expert witness is a:
- Practitioner within the field of expertise
- Instructor within the field of expertise
- Published author of peer review articles, textbooks, and/or guidelines
- Person who presents well in front of the jury
When it comes to building inspectors, this can mean someone who has years of experience as a building inspector, has trained others in building inspection, or has contributed to the writing of local or international building codes.
Role of building inspectors in cases
As an expert witness, a building inspector is expected to consult and testify regarding building codes and ordinances. They can provide an assessment and opinion on building regulations and violations. As such, they should be credible evaluators of structural failures, building defects, and building distress.
Building inspectors are often called in cases involving potential building defects found in a property that may or may not have led to injury. For example, a badly finished floor could have led to a person tripping and twisting their ankle, a water leak could have led to the collapse of a ceiling onto a person below. These defects can also involve the installation of electrical wiring and plumbing, the layout of the building design, wall integrity, and roof leakages. Problems in electrical systems, which can lead to both fire and electric shocks, are particularly dangerous and common.
Some defects are obvious and are referred to as patent. Other defects are less obvious, or manifest only after several years, these are referred to as latent.
A latent construction defect can be subtler than water seepage, which is why expert witnesses are important in the analysis of the merits of a case. Poor foundations or workmanship, as well as the use of inferior materials, may not be clear to non-expert witnesses. Other factors which can lead to a construction defect include:
- Improper soil analysis and preparation
- Site selection and planning
- Civil and structural engineering
- Defective building materials
- Negligent and unprofessional construction
A building inspector acting as an expert witness should be able to determine if the fixture in question is in compliance with the regulations of the building type. They have to conduct an inspection, prepare a report, and present the Expert Witness Report before the court. Usually, the report would begin with a hypothesis, and the cause would be confirmed by the relevant facts and observations.
Aside from helping determine the liability for any damages, the experts can also make recommendations for how to remedy the defects.