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Remember Manslaughter Next Time You Want to Cut a Corner In Design or Construction

3/11/2013 | Construction Blog

We have all seen projects where a design principle is bent a little or a construction technique is altered slightly for the sake of speed or cost. Often times, the attitude is “no harm, no foul”. But consider the other side of the situation and ask yourself what happens when there is harm. A recent case in Southern California is worth noting in that regard.

An architect in Los Angeles faces criminal manslaughter charges because he cut corners and – this time – it did result in harm. A firefighter was trapped, and later died from his injuries, when the ceiling collapsed on him fighting a fire at the architect’s home. It was later discovered that the fire originated with one of 4 fireplaces in the home. The architect now faces involuntary manslaughter charges from the District Attorney’s office.


Here is the rest of the story.

According to documents filed in the case the architect told city officials that he did not plan to install fireplaces during a construction inspection of the home. He then personally installed 4 fireplaces inside the home after the inspections were complete and he knew no city officials would be back for further inspection. His first mistake was using outside fireplaces. To make matters worse, he did not use the necessary non-combustible materials, fire resistant liners, or ventilation. Instead, he used lumber and drywall to frame the fireplaces in violation of the fire codes. The prosecutors decided this was either intentional or so negligent that they had to charge him with involuntary manslaughter.

While these facts represent an extreme case of negligence or intentional misdirection, it makes a larger point. Whatever the architect’s motivation, he cut corners. He did not use the right design or materials. He did not get the right inspections. In the end, if nothing had happened it might have turned out fine. But things went wrong and harm did result. So not only has “a foul” been called, this violation of the rules could result in significant jail time. Worse still, his decision caused the death of another human being.

It is yet to be seen whether the architect will be convicted. But think long and hard before you cut a corner next time, as the charge alone is not worth the risk.