SepOct 2008: Minimizing Masonry Litigation – 2008 Part 5: Basements

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

SeptemberOctober 2008

Omitting any of these code requirements can cause cracked or failing basement walls, mold and other organisms, and lawsuits.


Norm Cooper, P.E.
Norm Cooper, P.E., has served the justice system as a forensic engineer in more than 700 cases. He is included in Who’s Who in American Law and national and international editions of Who’s Who in Engineering. Cooper’s web address is www.realtyengineering.
com
.
Next Edition
Upcoming articles will include case studies of disputes and lawsuits involving other masonry issues.
Norm Cooper, P.E.
Norm Cooper, P.E., has served the justice system as a forensic engineer in more than 700 cases. He is included in Who’s Who in American Law and national and international editions of Who’s Who in Engineering. Cooper’s web address is www.realtyengineering.
com
.
Next Edition
Upcoming articles will include case studies of disputes and lawsuits involving other masonry issues.
Norm Cooper, P.E.
Norm Cooper, P.E., has served the justice system as a forensic engineer in more than 700 cases. He is included in Who’s Who in American Law and national and international editions of Who’s Who in Engineering. Cooper’s web address is www.realtyengineering.
com
.
Next Edition
Upcoming articles will include case studies of disputes and lawsuits involving other masonry issues.

To some, a surprising result of putting masonry litigation in order of decreasing lawsuits is that the brick and mortar itself is low on the list. Several subjects that affect the masonry are much more likely to cause lawsuits, including the earlier article topics in this series: drainage, foundations, and stairways/ramps. This article is on another frequent masonry lawsuit subject: basements. However, to minimize lawsuits the general principles of the first article are always needed: good ethics, well written contracts, clear and open communication, and following directions (e.g., building codes).

Code Principles

Complying with the law, in the form of the adopted applicable building code, is essential for minimization of lawsuits. The most prevalent cause of lawsuits is failure to comply with building code.

For basement walls the code requires exterior footing drains, exterior wall waterproofing and surface drainage as summarized in the figure above, which usually are (though not always) adopted and applicable. Omitting any of these code requirements can cause cracked or failing basement walls, mold and other organisms, and lawsuits.

Code requirements for preventing wet and cracked basements

Case Studies

The following are examples from the author’s expert witness cases, 95 percent of which are settled prior to trial based upon the author’s report.

Omitting any of these code requirements can cause cracked or failing basement walls, mold and other organisms, and lawsuits.
Photo 1

Case #1: Cracked masonry walls and water entry. A condominium development (Photo 1) had hundreds of masonry walled basements with extensive mold and cracked walls. Many of these units had drains installed in the basement floor just inside the walls, and all were ineffective or worsened the problems. The solution was to comply with code by reinforcing the cracked hollow block walls with rebar and grout, as well as engineering and inspecting installation of exterior footing drains, exterior wall waterproofing, and slopes to drain.

Follow masonry building codes for basements to avoid being sued.
Photo 2a

Case #2: Collapsed masonry wall. A masonry basement wall collapsed (Photo 2a), fortunately without injury or death. Prior to the collapse, the owner observed no cracks, just a wet wall. The cause was not the wall itself (which met requirements), but was excessive, unbalanced fill height for unreinforced wall; missing exterior footing drains; and exterior ground surfaces sloping toward the wall. The solution was to bring the premises to code, including wall reinforcement, exterior footing drain (Photo 2b), and exterior slopes to drain.

code requirements cracked failing basement walls mold organisms lawsuits
Photo 2b

Case #3: Interior drain causes damage. A residence had a wet basement, mold, and occupants with severe respiratory problems. A “waterproofing” company installed an interior drain around the full basement floor, ignoring inadequate exterior drainage – footing drain, damp proofing, and surface drainage. Excavation of the slab and earth for said interior drain increased the unbalanced fill height and cut into the existing walls, which worsened interior and exterior wall cracks. Water continued to enter through the concrete block walls increasing mold. The solution was to comply with building code by reinforcing the hollow block walls with rebar and grout, excavating exterior and installing exterior footing drain and wall waterproofing, grading to drain away from house, treating interior for organisms, and restoration of interior. 

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