Castro & Associates Construction Trial Lawyers

Assessment and mitigation of earthquake damage risk

Earthquakes are a fact of life in California, and the challenges for construction companies and property owners are not only to build new structures that will be able to withstand the force of an earthquake but to rehabilitate older buildings so that they are safe. 

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, one of the most seismically vulnerable community construction categories is buildings made with unreinforced masonry walls. Masonry refers to bricks and mortar, and a reinforced masonry wall has a grid of steel bars embedded within it for stability. By definition, this grid is missing in an unreinforced masonry wall. Due to the relative inability of URM walls to withstand the stresses of an earthquake, buildings constructed of URM are the frequent target of seismic risk reduction programs in the United States, whether on a mandatory or voluntary basis. 

In many areas of the country, building codes no longer permit construction of buildings with unreinforced masonry walls. Investigation of existing URM buildings in these areas to assess earthquake risk is therefore appropriate. According to Forbes, the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the owners of a building with hazardous URM walls who fail to make the necessary repairs are liable for injuries sustained or lives lost as a result of earthquake damage to the building.

In cases involving seismic damage to buildings, the donation of the research conducted for the purpose of construction litigation to universities and public agencies may help to inform public policy in the interest of minimizing injuries and fatalities as well as preventing excessive property losses from faulty construction, including URM, during earthquakes.

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