And They Built A Crooked House, by Ruth S. Martin


All the Experts Agree

Baxter called us after the fourth pretrial hearing, held February 10, 1988.
"The Judge was very sympathetic," he said. "He was really moved by what he saw last month. In fact I think he's trying to be very careful, so as not to appear biased. He's a very straight judge."
"What did Pierce and the others have to say?" I asked.
"Nothing, really. They were almost silent. I think there's been a break in the case."
"Why is that?"
"Two reasons. First, Banks has really added a dimension to the case. The second reason is Noble's survey. That's something they can't ignore."
"Then why aren't they making an offer?"
"We have another pretrial coming up. In fact the Judge wants to meet with you and Ruth on March 8. I'll need a complete break-down of your total expenses to date, and also an update on the appraisal of the house."
Baxter wanted to be ready to present the total dollar amount needed to "make us whole."
"Do you think they'll still go to trial?" Larry and I thought they would. Legal fees are maximized when you go to trial.
"Yes, I do," he agreed. "There probably won't be any attempt at settlement until the trial starts."
After the fourth pretrial hearing Baxter made what seemed at the time a smart move. He arranged for all the experts to meet at his office to explore just the structural problems and look for areas of agreement. He reasoned it would be better to find out ahead of time what everyone agreed to, if there was in fact agreement.
The experts' meeting took place February 18. Present were:

Charles Banks, our structural engineer
Sam Russell, our consulting architect
Mitch Anderson, builder Murdock's insurance company expert
Frank Noble, developer Cooper's expert
Mr. Rabin, architect Nelson's expert

None of the attorneys were in the room when the discussions took place. Following the meeting Banks sent out a detailed memoran-dum to all participants, listing the items agreed upon by everyone, including the defendants' experts. Excerpts follow

...The north/south beams seen in the unfinished basement area are acknowledged to be overstressed and in need of additional support or reinforcement. The recommended solution is to jack the beams level and place pipe column with a new footing at mid-span. ...It was agreed that the floors should be leveled by a combination of jacking the beams from the basement and filling the floors with a self leveling, light weight material. ...The wall header seen in the Foyer along the west edge of the stairs is inadequate. The most reasonable solution is to add a post at about midspan of this header down to the First Floor. This load can then be shimmed to the stair wall in the basement. The new post can become a full height Newel Post.
Summary 1. Glue and nail plywood (edges blocked), exterior walls, Bedrooms number Two and Three 2. Add full height Newel Post at bottom of stair to the Second Floor. 3. Add posts and footings at mid-span of two steel beams in Utility Room in Basement. 4. Add steel beams or multiple joists under east and west walls of Master Bathroom (between existing steel beams). 5. Level First and Second Floors (jack and fill) to tolerance to be determined.

So our house was a design/construction disaster and would require major rebuilding. How can the layman, the non-architect, non-builder, non-engineer, appreciate what went wrong? It certainly took us a long time to understand how they screwed up. Below is a schematic of two basic structural problems discussed by the experts. Add to these two defects many other construction mistakes, and you can begin to understand our crooked house.


House was built with center columns (CC) throughout basement not level with outside basement walls (OW), causing sloping of horizontal steel beams (B) toward the center. As a result, both the first and second floors sloped toward the center of the house. This defect was attributed to the builder. House also built with distance between outside basement walls and center columns too long for the size of beams (B) used in several areas. As a result, these beams were undersized and sagged in the middle, causing more sloping of the floors above. This defect was attributed to the architect. These defects did not affect the outside frame walls (F), which remained straight. Our house always looked lovely from the street.

Although the experts agreed on the major structural defects and basic methods of repair, a dollar cost was not discussed. That was not the purpose of the meeting. What would the defendants say now? That our house was quality-built? One of their "stronger designs?" And would they now make an offer to repair it? And if not, why not?

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