In this article, Structural Engineer and Special Inspector, Mark Duckett describes the role of the special inspector within the context of construction claims investigations. The article leverages text directly from Florida Statutes to provide a reliable point of reference.
What is a “Special Inspector” in Florida and How are they Relevant to Construction Claims?
In Florida, the Special Inspector of Threshold Buildings plays a critical role during the construction of specific types of buildings. If construction defects should arise following the construction of those types of buildings, the Special Inspector is sometimes targeted as a defendant in subsequent litigation. The actions of the Special Inspector will then be scrutinized for Standard of Care violations relative to the performance of their scope of work as related to any defect claims.
A Special Inspector of Threshold Buildings (also referred to as a Threshold Inspector) is a registered professional engineer certified by the state of Florida as having met the requirements for qualification established by the Florida Board of Professional Engineers in Rule 61G15-35.003, Florida Administrative Code (the statutes also allow licensed architects to hold a Special Inspector license). This individual is tasked with performing structural inspections on threshold buildings, while under construction, pursuant to the structural inspection plan (sometimes referred to as the Threshold Inspection Plan) prepared by the structural engineer-of-record (SEOR) for that building. Where applicable, the special inspector is also responsible to ensure that a professional engineer who specializes in shoring design has properly inspected all shoring and reshoring.
What is a “Threshold Building”?
Threshold buildings are defined in FL Statute 553.71(12) as any building which:
- Is greater than three stories or 50 feet in height, or
- Has an assembly occupancy classification as defined in the Florida Building Code which exceeds 5,000 square feet in area or an occupant content of greater than 500 persons.
What are “Threshold Inspection Plans”?
The purpose of a structural inspection plan (Threshold Inspection Plan), created by the SEOR for a threshold building, is to identify critical structural elements of the building to the Special Inspector so that those elements are properly inspected during construction to ensure compliance with the permitted documents. The Threshold Inspection Plan is included along with the contract documents for the building when a building permit application is submitted and becomes part of the contract documents for that project.
What is the Role of the Special Inspector?
The Special Inspector is employed by the fee owner of a threshold building, but the Special Inspector is only responsible to the local enforcement agency (ie, local municipality or building department). The Special Inspector may not serve as a surrogate in carrying out the responsibilities of the building official, and the contractor’s contractual or statutory obligations are not relieved by any action of the Special Inspector. The engineer (or architect) of record for a project MAY act as the Special Inspector, provided they are on the list of persons qualified as Special Inspectors as maintained by either the Florida Board of Professional Engineers or the FL Board of Architecture and Interior Design.
The Special Inspector must, upon completion of the building and prior to the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy for the building, file a signed and sealed statement with the enforcement agency in substantially the following form: “To the best of my knowledge and belief, the construction of all load bearing components described in the Threshold Inspection Plan complies with the permitted documents, and the specialty shoring design professional engineer has ascertained that the shoring and re-shoring conforms with the shoring and re-shoring plans submitted to the enforcement agency.” (FL Statute 553.79(7)(a))
So what then, is the role of a Special Inspector on a Threshold Building project? Simply stated, it is to inspect only those structural members identified by the Threshold Inspection Plan. The specialty engineer does not in any way assume the roles or responsibilities of either the building inspector or a third party inspector who have different, distinct, and clearly defined roles of inspections for a Threshold Building. Similarly, the role of the Special Inspector is unrelated and independent from the role of the Engineer-of-Record for the project.
The Special Inspector’s role is not as a full time inspector; they only inspect those structural elements listed in the Threshold Inspection Plan and at frequencies and/or milestones if so stipulated in the Inspection Plan. Since the contractor maintains and is responsible for the project’s construction schedule, it is the contractor who schedules the inspections for the Special Inspector on a Threshold Building.
What are some Examples of Cases Involving Special Inspectors?
- Were the actions of the Special Inspector reasonable and/or did those actions violate the standard of care for a Special Inspector?
- Did the design of the building, as prepared by the Structural Engineer of Record (SEOR) meet the applicable standard of care?
- Did the Threshold Inspection Plan, as prepared by the SEOR, meet the applicable standard of care?
- Were the actions of the contractor reasonable and/or did those actions violate the standard of care, relative to the Special Inspector and the Special Inspections on a Threshold Building?
- What was/were the cause(s) of the defective construction and did the Special Inspector’s actions contribute to the existence of those defects in the finished building product?
Who is the Right Expert for My Case?
Evaluation of cases regarding the Standard of Care for Special Inspectors is best addressed by a structural engineer who has a Special Inspector certification (S.I.) in the state of Florida. Additionally, structural-specific education and training, as well as experience creating Threshold Inspection Plans and acting in the capacity of a Special Inspector are invaluable tools that an experienced structural engineering/Special Inspector expert can bring to those cases.
Structural Engineer & Special Inspector
Mark Duckett is a Florida registered Professional Engineer with a Special Inspectors certification in the state of Florida and is also certified by the Structural Engineering Certification Board. He has over three decades of professional experience, including acting as the SEOR of Threshold Buildings, creating Threshold Inspection Guidelines and acting as the Special Inspector in the state of Florida. His experience also includes writing structural portions of the Florida Building Code as well as experience in providing expert consultation to the Florida Board of Professional Engineers. He is registered as a professional engineer in multiple states, and is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Concrete Institute.