Construction Expert Opines On Condition Of Collapsed Deck

Victoria Negron

Written by
— Updated on January 11, 2022

Construction Expert

This case involves a woman from Arkansas who fell off a ladder. The woman was washing the windows on the second floor of her house without any supervision. The ladder was stationed on top of her composite wood deck and she leaned the ladder against the roofline. She was on the ladder for only a few minutes and completed her work without any issues. As she was making her way down the ladder, several of the deck planks collapsed. The ladder slipped and the woman fell from a height of approximately 21 feet. She suffered head injuries, a concussion, and was rendered paralyzed from the neck down. It was alleged that the defective boards gave out due to the weight of the ladder and the woman. An expert in construction and engineering was sought to inspect the deck material and opine on its condition.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Please describe your background in deck construction, ladder safety, and/or engineering.
  • 2. How would you determine what caused the composite wood to crack?

Expert Witness Response E-001121

My background is in engineering and human factors, and I am an engineer licensed in a southern state. My human factors master’s thesis was based on ladder safety and usage and I have published on the subject. My research in ladder standards and safety would allow me to rule that out as a contributing factor. My initial thought is that this definitely sounds like both an engineering issue and a human factors issue. It would be highly unusual for a composite deck board to fail under the load of a ladder with a worker on it. An examination of the composite material would need to be performed to determine if it was defective, improperly fastened, improperly cut/installed, or overloaded. The overload condition is more likely if it was over-spanned and designed poorly, or in conjunction with one of the other conditions listed above. The examination and analysis would be visual in nature, also based on engineering calculations, and possible laboratory testing, if required. The manufacturer of the material should be verified and exemplary material obtained if necessary and available. If this is simply a composite deck board failure, it should be fairly simple. However, other contributing factors also need to be considered and ruled out such as the actions of the worker and the usage of the ladder.

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