Structural Engineer, eh?

Okay…my client is a home owner who is having some trouble with his deck and he filed a claim with his insurance company. They sent over a structural engineer.

I have the report on my desk.

The first level of the deck is 10’ from the ground and it supports a second level deck a full story above it.

From the photos and the narrative, I see that the ledger board for the first level is attached to the brick with 3/8" lag bolts that are located 1" from the bottom of the ledger board. Both levels are supported with 4"x6" posts that are 10’ high and one of the photographs in the report shows at least one to be visibly out of plumb. The joist hangers and the nails that are attaching them to the ledger board and joists are corroded, the ledger board on the second floor is pulling away from the house and the joists are separating from both ledger boards.

The structural engineer, who according to his signature block is a “Ph. D” and a “P.E.” and whose seal reflects that he is registered with the State of Missouri, recommends “typical annual maintenance every 1 to 2 years” and determines the structure to be “undamaged”.

Now…for the good part. Following his signature is a general disclaimer which reads, in part…“Liability is limited to the fee charged for the service.”


Sounds like the insurance company only wanted to know if a valid damage claim exists.

I doubt the homeowner has coverage for improper construction etc.

Its likely that the homeowner will get a letter from the insurance company requiring them to have the deck repaired in a safe manner within 30 days.

No doubt, there is shoddy construction.

Would not the shoddy construction and the fact that the deck is separating from the structure…and itself…lead a reasonable person to conclude that it is not structurally sound?

Regarding the separation from the building…I forgot to add that my client says that a contractor’s inspection (not sure of what he was there for) of the deck three month’s prior showed no separation from the building at that time.

This engineer is very unique. Missouri engineers usually put that disclaimer on the cover page. Sad but true.

In that case, I would instruct everyone to avoid the deck altogether. At the current rate of separation, one could logically assume, that within six months, the deck will collapse!


The ledger board pulling away from the home alone makes the deck unsafe. I would follow Erics advice.

James, what kind of “trouble” was the homeowner having with his deck that made him call his insurance company? Did he put in a “damage” claim?

“undamaged” is not the same as “unsafe”. When I think of damaged in an insurance sense, I think of things like, a car ran into it, wind blew it down, caught on fire, etc.,…you get what I mean.


Every structural engineer’s report should have a Scope of Work section up front explaining in detail what he was hired to do. Insurance companies are very sharp when it comes to avoiding liability and they may have been very specific on what he was to do. The issue for the engineer is if while doing what he was hired to do he finds a health or safety issue he is ethically bound to do something. The law states:

Licensees at all times shall recognize that their primary obligation is to protect the safety, health, property or welfare of the public.
If the professional judgment is overruled under circumstances where the safety, health, property or welfare of the public are endangered, they shall notify their employer or client and other authority as may be appropriate.

It may be a case where the company sent out a young inexperienced engineer that did not know what he was looking at. Engineers like Home Inspectors need at least 10 years of experience before they know enough to know if they are in over their head or not. (my opinion)

I am not inspecting it until this weekend. He forwarded the engineer’s report to me, today. Not sure what he claimed other than the fact that he fears his deck is falling down and that he disagrees with the engineer’s claim that it simply requires “typical annual maintenance”.

Not looking for any advice just yet. I probably will when I am wording my report so as not to cross over into a direct confrontation with an engineer’s report. Just surprised by two things…that an improperly constructed deck that is not securely attached to a house could be considered to be simply in need of typical annual maintenance and that an engineer can limit his liability to the cost of his inspection while a home inspector 62 miles away must cover the first $10,000 of an issue before the real estate salesman has to pick up any of the tab.

He was hired to “determine the extent of movement and separation in the rear deck framing”. He sent out a “senior engineering technician” to collect his data which, according to my client, took twenty minutes.

He didn’t share that information with me on the phone but I will learn more when I am there gathering information for my report. He hired me to inspect and report on the current condition of his deck and sent me the engineer’s report.

You ask some good questions that are certainly relevant and I will share what I learn after I have a chance to gather more facts to replace my opinions.

Just because he wrote in his contract a Liability Limitation, does not necessarily mean it will work.

People put all sorts of stuff in Contracts to scare people away.



I think you just found the problem… That technician probably does not have the education and experience needed to look at that deck and analyze all the problems. That may be the first deck he has been assigned to look at. I see why the engineer had a disclaimer. There are allot of items I would trust a technician to do such as materials testing, sampling, quantity measuring, but structural engineering NO WAY. Taking back pictures for the engineer to look at can be an issue. You need to know what to take a picture of and there are items pictures cannot record such as how shaky the deck was when you push on it.

Keep us posted as I would like to hear what your findings are.

The homeowner should request the “technicians” report or data sheet and pictures that he submitted to the engineer based on the site visit.

Bingo, give this man a Cupie Doll!

New information.

The insurance claim was for “wind damage”, according to my client. In that regard, the structural engineer report is not necessarily errant in describing the damage as being a “maintenance” issue since the construction was, indeed, shoddy and there was nothing apparent to him to indicate that the movement and separation resulted from a single natural event.

I informed the client that my report of my inspection of the current condition of the deck would not include a definitive cause for that condition that would refute the findings of an engineer and he decided to withdraw his insurance claim and have the deck removed and properly rebuilt.

Sounds like you talked yourself out of a job. :shock:

Just Kidding. It’s the right thing to do. :cool:

It is a Jungle out there James. :smiley: