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In this article, architect and premises safety expert Lee E. Martin, AIA discusses the concept of wayfinding as it relates to premises liability investigations.

Issues of wayfinding are sometimes brought into question in disputes where parties fail to navigate or orient themselves within the built environment. Architects frequently design wayfinding systems to assist users in hospitals, airports, museums, parking garages, and a wide range of other settings.

Wayfinding in Premises Liability Investigations

The mental process we use to orient ourselves in a location, to make enroute decisions while travelling, to monitor our progress, and to recognize our destination upon arriving is called wayfinding. The process involves physical elements such as architectural features, landmarks and signage, as well as human cognition, perception, and expectation.

Architects, trained in the manipulation and perception of space, are qualified by education, training and experience to design and evaluate wayfinding systems. Large scale wayfinding systems are found on highways, in cities, and on the campuses of large colleges and universities. Smaller scale systems are found in complex buildings such as healthcare facilities, airports, and high-rise office buildings. Wayfinding systems are designed and constructed to guide a variety of users, including those with vision or mobility impairments, dementia, or other disability.


The image above depicts a simple example of a wayfinding system within a parking garage. The levels within the garage are consistently marked by color and letter and the areas within each level are further described by numeric regions. Location information, consistent with this system, is available throughout the environment and communicated to users on signage at entry points throughout the facility.

Principles of effective wayfinding include clarity, simplicity, and consistency. Each principle is achieved using a variety of scientific and evidence-based methods. Organizations of various kinds develop and publish nationally-recognized procedures and standards for the development of effective wayfinding systems. When wayfinding systems are ineffective, or when pedestrians choose to ignore the visual cues that are provided, consequences can be more serious than simply getting lost:

Case A: A woman experienced chest pains and collapsed in the concourse restroom at a major US airport. Another female in the restroom went out into the concourse to get help. Not finding any airport staff, she dialed 911 but was unable to identify the terminal where she was located. EMTs went to two other terminals before reaching the woman in distress, who had died in the meantime. While signage identifying the terminal was present but not conspicuous to the aid-giver from the door of the restroom, it was determined to meet the requirements contained in applicable FAA wayfinding standards.

Case B: A pedestrian leaving a parking garage through a vehicular exit lane was struck by a descending gate arm and injured. It was claimed that the gate arm should not have descended while the pedestrian was beneath it. It was determined that the gate arm functioned properly as required for vehicular traffic, and that the wayfinding system employed by the owners of the parking garage was conspicuous to reasonably attentive pedestrians, containing a specific warning for pedestrians not to use vehicular exit lanes to leave the garage.

In both cases described above, attorneys relied on Robson Forensic architects to provide opinions regarding the effectiveness of the wayfinding systems, and the standard of care in each of the cases cited above.

Premises Liability Investigations

The Premises Safety Experts at Robson Forensic investigate cases involving the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of residential, institutional, and commercial premises. We conduct site inspections, perform tests, and review applicable standards to learn facts and form opinions about how and why individuals were injured within the built environment.

For more information submit an inquiry or contact the author of this article.

 

Featured Expert

Lee E. Martin, AIA, CBO, LEED AP

Architect & Premises Safety Expert

Lee Martin is a licensed architect with over 30 years of private and public-sector experience as a design/build project manager, capital improvement program director, building official, and forensic expert. Lee applies his expertise to forensic investigations involving architecture, construction, professional liability, premises safety, and code-related matters. He has worked on buildings of various kinds, including high-rise office, residential and mixed-use projects, as well as aviation, health care and detention facilities. Lee is licensed as an architect in many states. He is a former International Code Council Certified Building Official, and a USGBC LEED Accredited Professional.

There are several experts at Robson Forensic who are qualified to investigate wayfinding issues as they relate to premises liability disputes. For assistance determining which expert is best qualified to investigate the specific technical aspects of your case, please contact your local Robson Forensic office or submit an inquiry through our website.