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The Use of Emerging Technologies in Structural Collapse Investigations

The accurate and thorough documentation of existing conditions that exist immediately after a structural failure is critical for the proper analysis and evaluation of failed buildings or building systems. This is even more critical when the failure investigation involves a full or partial structural collapse. Investigation of any structural failure requires meticulous documentation of the condition of the structure in its damaged state; however, such documentation is difficult when dealing with collapsed structures due to a number of factors including, but not limited to, site safety and access limitations. Additionally, there is the potential that additional damage, deterioration, or spoliation of the structure will occur from exposure to weather or even vandalism. Because of this, it is imperative that the documentation of the existing conditions be completed as quickly as possible after the collapse event to prevent degradation of the post-collapse conditions. Thus, given the need to quickly and thoroughly document the conditions along with the need to maintain the safety of the investigators and prevent additional damage, it seems that the forensic investigators are being asked to complete a difficult, if not impossible task. While this was trying in the past, new technologies are making the job of such documentation not only more accurate and thorough, but also increasing safety for the investigators, coupled with reducing the time that it takes to complete the documentation of the failed structure.

Traditional documentation methods employed by forensic experts include taking numerous photographs and preparing detailed sketches of the collapsed structure. While these methods have a proven track record, and are unlikely to go away completely, by their nature such documentation methods are time consuming, which is a luxury that forensic experts rarely have and something that property owners and insurance companies typically look to avoid. Additionally, keeping track of where photographs were taken and what particular items or elements are being documented at which locations can be a monumental task that is both difficult for the expert and expensive for their client. This is where some of the recent technological advances available to forensic experts really shine.

Many recent advances in technology give forensic investigators the ability to accurately and thoroughly document conditions after a structural collapse while making the process safer for the investigators and reducing the time to document the conditions. These new tools have been used in other industries in the recent past, including the construction and real estate industries; however, the integration of such tools to the investigation of structural collapses has become more feasible and realistic with the continued development of the software that powers these tools. Moreover, one the best takeaways includes the quality of the cameras that capture images and video, memorializing site conditions for future review and purposes of litigation.

Some of the tools available to investigators evaluating structural collapses include three-dimensional mapping and imaging tools and unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) photography software. With the recent advances in the capabilities of these tools, forensic experts can create fully digital three-dimensional models of a collapsed structure from both the inside and the outside of the building. The common three-dimensional mapping and imaging tools allow for complete and accurate documentation of the interiors of damaged structures using high-resolution digital photographs of all surfaces which can then be assembled to create a complete three-dimensional model of the structure. This allows a forensic investigator to not only quickly and accurately document the existing conditions, but these tools allow the experts and other interested parties to do a virtual-walk through of the structure with the flexibility to observe all exposed surfaces. The idea of taking a client or jury through a collapsed structure by effectively immersing them into the building, is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence a forensic expert can offer. Furthermore, these mapping and imaging tools don’t just allow for the visual observation of the existing conditions but provide a fully dimensioned model of the structure. Similarly, visual imagery collected using drone mounted high resolution cameras allow for all exterior surfaces of a collapsed structure to be documented and can be used to create a three-dimensional model of the exterior. Additionally, depending on software compatibility, the models created by these systems can be combined to create a fully integrated three-dimensional model of the entire structure both inside and out. This allows for the condition of a collapsed structure to be thoroughly documented in a manner that is typically more thorough and more accurate.

Technology is aiding all industries and now we see how it’s aiding the forensic expert and their clients. Documentation of a collapsed structure can now be done in more accurately and in less time than with traditional documentation techniques, allowing forensic investigators to spend less time within dangerous areas, facilitate accelerated repairs of these structures, while memorializing conditions to be presented more effectively to claims professionals and litigators, and most importantly a jury. The days of static images are over, technology has made forensic reporting dynamic and immersive.

By: Mr. Terence Kadlec, PE, Practice Leader, Construction and Mr. Andy Guerra, PE, SE, Technical Lead, Construction Envista Forensics

 

Anticipated Prejudgment Interest in Illinois

On March 18, 2021, the Illinois Legislature passed a bill to amend 735 ILCS 5/2-1303 to require prejudgment interest on all personal injury and wrongful death matters in which a judgment is entered for the plaintiff. This bill is expected to be signed by Governor Pritzker and become effective on July 1, 2021. The amendment requires prejudgment interest at a rate of 6% per annum. The prejudgment interest begins to accrue on the date the action is filed, but does not apply to punitive damages, sanctions, statutory attorney’s fees, or statutory costs. The bill also does not apply to public entity defendants.

The current bill is a compromise of a prior House Bill that required 9% prejudgment interest per annum, which would have begun to accrue at the time a defendant had notice of an injury. See Illinois House Bill 3360, January 13, 2021. Based on the 2 year statute of limitations for most personal injury matters and the 4 year statute of limitations for construction negligence claims in Illinois, the prior bill would have essentially resulted in 18%-36% prejudgment interest being added to a potential judgment at the time a plaintiff filed their personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. The prior version of the bill was passed by the Illinois Senate. However, Governor Pritzker requested that the bill’s sponsors engage in discussions with the defense bar to discuss how to make the bill fairer to defendants. Governor Pritzker’s request was prompted by significant objections from the defense bar and the business community in Illinois. Based on the compromise reached in the current bill and the prior passage of the House Bill by the Illinois Senate, it is expected that this amendment will be signed by Governor Pritzker and become effective on July 1, 2021. The current bill will also apply to all personal injury and wrongful death cases currently pending at the time the bill is enacted and prejudgment interest on those cases will begin to accrue from the time the bill is enacted.  

The Illinois Court’s statistical summary for 2019 indicates that the time between a lawsuit being filed and a verdict is approximately 33.8 months for personal injury cases seeking in excess of $50,000. This means that a plaintiff in Illinois could expect prejudgment interest of approximately 18% for the average personal injury case seeking in excess of $50,000. The prejudgment interest will apply to the total amount of the judgment based on all damages. This will include prejudgment interest on damages related to past medical billing, as opposed to actual payment for past medical costs, as well as expected future medical expenses, lost wages, future loss of earning capacity, and non-economic damages.

Based on this bill providing a significant incentive to plaintiffs to delay litigation, the bill sets a 5 year time limit for prejudgment interest. This will limit prejudgment interest to 30% of any judgment in a personal injury matter. Moreover, prejudgment interest does not continue to accrue during the time that a plaintiff voluntarily dismisses an action. In Illinois a plaintiff may voluntarily dismiss an action at any time prior to trial and refile within 1 year or within the original statute of limitation, whichever is greater. See 735 ILCS 5/2-1009 and 735 ILCS 5/13-217.  Prejudgment interest will then continue to accrue upon refiling.

One of the concessions in the current bill is related to written settlement offers made by a defendant within 12 months of the filing of a lawsuit. If a plaintiff does not accept a written offer within 90 days or rejects the written offer, then any prejudgment interest added to the amount of the judgment shall be based on the difference between the judgment and the amount of the written offer. If the judgment is equal to or less than the highest written offer, then no prejudgment interest shall be added to the judgment. Based on this section of the bill, it may be beneficial for a defendant to make a written settlement offer to a plaintiff within 12 months of the filing of a lawsuit. However, it is expected that this section of the bill will be an incentive to plaintiff’s counsel to delay discovery during the first 12 months of a case in an effort to reduce any potential written settlement offer and to increase the punitive effect of the prejudgment interest statute.  

Overall, the passing of this bill furthers Illinois’ status as a plaintiff friendly jurisdiction. This bill punishes defendants that defend themselves against personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits and provides an incentive for plaintiffs to file suit and to delay litigation for up to 5 years. We anticipate that this bill will create more litigation, increase costs of litigation for defendants, and cause further congestion of the Illinois Courts, which have not conducted civil trials in more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At this time, the defense bar and the business community are requesting that the bill be further amended to extend the time frame for settlement offers to 36 months, to delay interest from starting to accrue until the parties are at issue, to remove interest from being added to non-economic and future damages, and to add that plaintiffs would be responsible for a defendant’s costs and fees if they reject a written settlement offer that is equal to or exceeds the judgment.  (Cassiday Schaede LLP) 

Joseph A. Panatera is a partner at Cassiday Schade LLP. Joseph concentrates his practice on civil litigation, with an emphasis on transportation, products liability, medical malpractice, and civil rights. Joseph has tried multiple cases to verdict in both Illinois and Indiana, and frequently resolves cases through arbitration and mediation.

 

(March 3, 2021) - Gallagher Sharp continues to grow its Business & Employment Practice Group by adding its newest Partner, Jennifer Fewell Phillips, to the team.

"Jen's vast experience in business and employment law adds a new layer to our capabilities", said Timothy Brick, Managing Partner & Business & Employment Practice Group Manager at Gallagher Sharp. "We are thrilled to have Jen with us and look forward to utilizing her knowledge to better serve our clients."

Prior to joining Gallagher Sharp, Jennifer was the Director of Litigation and Assistant General Counsel for a publicly traded specialty retail jeweler. She also previously served as Vice President, Associate Counsel-Human Resources for a publicly traded financial services company. Jennifer's focus will be on representing employers and individuals against claims involving all areas of employment law. (Gallagher Sharp LLP)

 

Supreme Court of Ohio Appoints Gallagher Sharp Partner Monica A. Sansalone Chair of the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection

(FEBRUARY 24, 2021) - We are extremely pleased to announce that the Supreme Court of Ohio has appointed Partner Monica A. Sansalone as Chair of The Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. The Fund was established by the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1985 to restore public confidence in the legal profession by providing financial reimbursement to victims of dishonest lawyers. To learn more about Monica’s experience, please click here: http://www.gallaghersharp.com/professional/monica-a-sansalone/ – (Gallagher|Sharp LLP)

 

BGK Partner Elizabeth White Just Obtained Final Summary Judgment

(FEBRUARY 23, 2021) - BGK Partner Elizabeth White just obtained Final Summary Judgment in a wrongful death dram shop case in Miami-Dade County, Florida.   The case was well publicized and also included a catastrophic injury claim for a survivor of the accident.  Elizabeth was able to convince the Court that the Plaintiff’s could not meet their evidentiary burden under Florida’s Dram Shop statute.   A terrific result in a very difficult venue ! - (BGK)

 
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