Damage: What it is and why it's important to have a good, technical definition

Post written by David Stewart.

It’s usually not rocket science to ascertain if a construction component is damaged, but as an expert in troubled construction with a particular focus on durability, you can build a legal case on my opinion. And in my experience, if you’re going to make a claim, you have to define your terms.

The fact that damage is so easily perceived means that it often avoids clear definition.  It’s important to have a circumscribed meaning, however, in order to claim that damage is what you’ve got.  A clear idea of what damage is makes all the difference between a viable case against a negligent party and wasting valuable time and money.

A definition that I have developed as an expert witness in cases of troubled construction is reasonably consistent with the S478-95, “Guideline on Durability in Buildings” published by the Canadian Standards Association.  It goes like this:  

For a component to be considered damaged it must pass two litmus tests:  

1. The condition must be permanent.  For instance, if a structural component gets wet but is allowed to dry out then it is not damaged.  

2. The function of the component must be impaired or compromised. So, a structural component must have structural deterioration such as fungal activity damaging the cellulose structure of the wood, for example.  For an aesthetic item such as painted sheetrock, staining is considered damage.  But staining alone of a structural or concealed component is not considered damage.

In a nutshell, context matters: if what can’t be seen doesn’t look pristine but does the job, it is not damaged.  If it don’t look pretty from the outside, however, you probably have grounds for a claim.  Likewise, if something takes minimal effort to right (i.e. a few hours in the warm sunshine), there’s no need to call in the lawyers.  

Photo credit: miguel77 / Foter / CC BY-NC

Posted: Fri, 15 Feb 2013
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