Stories of Fraud

by Rick Abbott PE, SE

Fraud is a serious offense. Stay away from it.  According to the Engineering Code of Ethics, certain actions must be reported to the proper authorities if unethical actions are discovered.

Story 1  – A good hearted volunteer helps commit fraud

Once while working in a tornado damaged area I came across a volunteer at a gas station.  He was part of an outstanding organization whose goal was to help those in need when communities are struck with catastrophe events. The nonprofit organization would send volunteers into the damaged areas to help local property owners with whatever they could. An EF-4 tornado had ravaged the neighborhood. The well-intentioned volunteer shared a story of what he was apparently proud to have done for a local homeowner. An elderly widow who was down on her luck lived near the path of the tornado. They removed a few fallen trees limbs off the property, and generally looked over her house. They found minor damage to the house, but also noticed that the roof shingles needed to be replaced for reasons other than wind. With a desire to help the widow, the team of volunteers placed tarps on the entire roof giving the impression that the entire roof was damaged by the tornado. The insurance adjuster arrived at a later date.  Seeing that the roof was covered with tarp, he assumed that the roof had been damaged by the tornado. Believing the roof was damaged by wind, the owner was awarded a new roof.  I turned away from the volunteer stunned and disappointed.

Story 2  – Case of a savy business executive wanting to save money at cost of design error progressing into a construction error.

Design errors do occur. Building design firms are required to purchase Errors and Omissions (E&O) Insurance to safeguard themselves and others against problems arising out of mistakes that are made in design. There was a project where the connections of a large steel structure were under sized by accident due to plan errors. The building was on a fast track for completion. The discovery of a design flaw of this magnitude would delay the opening of the building and cause significant loss of money for those involved in construction of the building. A lawyer not familiar with structural engineering but familiar with minimizing risk or exposure propose the following question. “Everyone knows that buildings are over designed and have factors of safety against collapse or failure. What would really happen if this situation was not exposed and the building continue to be built with the connections as is?” I explained that engineers take an oath to safeguard the general public and that covering up deficient construction was not an option that would be permitted.  The problem was exposed.  The connections were modified.  The construction was delayed.  Some costs were incurred for the design error.  Life was protected.

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