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Determining Negligence in Engineering Failures

Mark P. Rossow, Ph.D, PE Retired

Negligence in the practice of professional engineering means the failure to behave with the standard of care that a professional engineer of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The purpose of this course is to identify conditions under which, when an engineering failure has occurred, it can be attributed to negligence. Five causes of failure are proposed: negligence, rare failure mode, overlooked failure mode, new (previously unrecognized) failure mode, and incorrect assessment of a known risk. Negligence is the only cause that involves failing in an ethical duty.

These concepts are illustrated with five case studies of failures ranging from gross negligence to absolutely unforeseeable events:

1. The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, for which a new possible cause was identified 95 years later (2014);
2. A building collapse in Bangladesh in which over 1,000 people died—one of the worst structural engineering disasters in history;
3. A meteorite strike of a private residence;
4. The crash of the British-French Concorde supersonic airliner, caused by an unlikely tire blow-out; and
5. Radiation overdoses received by patients treated by the Thorac-25 medical linear accelerator, caused by errors in the software controlling the machine.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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NY PE & PLS: You must choose courses that are technical in nature or related to matters of laws and ethics contributing to the health and welfare of the public. NY Board does not accept courses related to office management, risk management, leadership, marketing, accounting, financial planning, real estate, and basic CAD. Specific course topics that are on the borderline and are not acceptable by the NY Board have been noted under the course description on our website.