Guidelines for Truss Collapse Investigations
Guidelines for Truss Collapse Investigations
It’s the call no component manufacturer wants to get—the call telling you there’s been a collapse at a project where you provided trusses. Component manufacturers can do their due diligence by building a quality product and supplying framers with installation and bracing information, such as SBCA’s JOBSITE PACKAGE, but what should you do when you’re informed of a collapse where you weren’t even present? Much like a car accident or house fire, a truss collapse is something you hope never happens, but to be realistic and responsible, you have to plan for the worst.
As a component manufacturer, what should I do if I’m notified of a truss collapse?
A truss collapse and any resulting property damage, loss claims or legal action can be stressful. Here are some steps to help navigate the truss collapse investigation process and protect your company.
Be Prepared: The best approach is to have a plan long before you need it. Be proactive and strategize how you might deal with a truss collapse and the subsequent investigation. Talk to your insurance company and walk through a hypothetical situation to see how they process a truss collapse. Integrate their approach into your strategy for protecting the best interests of your company. Also keep in mind that the insurance company has one goal and one goal only—to reduce its claims expenses—because the greater the expense, the less profit it will make. Never delegate the responsibility of protecting your company's best interests to the insurance company. Only you can do this most effectively, as the insurance company will be focused on protecting its own best interests. The SBC article, “Protect Yourself Before the Accident Happens” by Steve Cabler, provides good background information on developing a response plan. See the box at the bottom of page 11 for more information on this article and other resources.
Establish a Contact Person: When dealing with the person who informed your company of the collapse (contractor, builder, etc.), it’s recommended to have one employee or department serve as the point of contact. This helps maintain consistent communication and avoid misunderstandings. The last thing you want is for communication to become a game of “telephone” where the facts change as they are relayed from person to person. Your point of contact can provide updates to management and other staff, which also helps keep everyone at your company on the same page.
Gather as Much Information as Possible: Information and facts can be your friend (and savior), especially if legal action is brought against your company. Court cases often don’t take place until long after a collapse has been cleared, so you want to get the facts as soon as possible and document as much as you can. While every detail may be crystal clear in the days following a collapse, as time passes, memories become hazy, which can be problematic if people are called to a deposition or have to provide testimony before a judge and jury.
If you get information early on, it should also be easier to confirm the facts. For instance, if a framer says he correctly installed the permanent bracing on a project, you can go to the jobsite to see for yourself, take photos (lots of photos), and establish, where possible, the facts regarding that and all statements. Years later, you will have everything you need in your file to help support the facts surrounding the incident and your point of view.
Protect Your Best Interests: When developing your truss collapse response plan, it’s good to have the contact information for—or better yet, a working relationship with—the professionals listed below. During your hypothetical discussion with your insurance broker/insurance company, you should get them to agree, through a letter contract, to use and pay for your attorney and structural expert to manage any litigation that comes your way. This will more assuredly protect both your and the insurance broker/insurance company’s best interests. Getting this expertise on the job early can be very useful to develop strategies, minimize the cost of any litigation and aggressively defend your company against possible claims.
• A lawyer with experience working with truss manufacturers and construction litigation can help you navigate through the investigation process and any resulting legal action.
• An independent engineer knowledgeable about trusses and wood frame construction can provide valuable perspective, along with the objectivity of being removed from your company, on the cause of a truss collapse.
• Your plate supplier can offer advice and guidance, and may also want to conduct its own investigation.
Contact Your Insurance Company: Once an event occurs, immediately contact your insurance company to inform them of the collapse. Remember that their goal will be to mitigate costs and often their next step will be to hire a low-cost attorney and expert with whom they already have a relationship. This generally results in poor representation for the truss manufacturer. Remind your insurance company of the letter of agreement you developed with them regarding the attorney and structural expert you both agreed to use for all situations like this. Then work together to assess the situation, plan and take appropriate action.
Be Responsive: The aftermath of a truss collapse can be tense, which also makes it a valuable opportunity to work through the issues positively with your customer, whose stress level is probably even higher than yours. Help your customer deal with the issues that you can in a proactive manner. This will certainly help reduce your customer’s stress and put the situation in a more positive light with respect to your long-term customer/supplier relationship and with their decision to litigate. No matter what happens, word of how you dealt with the situation gets around, and positive words are always good for future business.
For more information on developing a plan for your company, visit sbcmag.info/tcchecklist.pdf.
SBCA has a number of resources to help draft a truss collapse response plan. Visit sbcindustry.com/tcchecklist for details on:
• Sample plan/checklist to use as a guide for pre-event-planning.
• ORisk—SBCA’s online risk management training program, with topics including Insurance 101 and Risk Transfer Provisions.
• Articles on dealing with a truss collapse and managing risk, including the article by Steve Cabler referenced in this Technical Q&A.