Computer-Aided Liability

by Lisa Backman, Editor, CE Computing Review; Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE, 345 E. 47th St., New York, NY, 10017,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1993, Vol. 63, Issue 6, Pg. 41-43

Document Type: Feature article


Civil engineers are using computers more than ever to help them streamline analysis and design, boost productivity and cut costs. Often they rely on mass-marketed software such as Autodesk Inc.'s AutoCAD or Intergraph's MicroStation. Using mass-marketed software, however, can increase engineers' exposure to liability. In January 1978, the 2 1/2 acre space-frame roof of the Hartford (Conn.) Civic Center collapsed under 4 in. of snow and ice only hours after 5,000 basketball fans had left. The engineers who designed the roof were so confident in the results of their computer model of the roof that they did not check the model's calculations when notified during construction that the roof was sagging. Failure analysis showed that the computer had generated an over-simplified model of the roof. The engineers were held fully responsible for the collapse, but many engineers question whether they alone should be held liable if a bug in computer software used causes design problems. Under contract law, software developers could be held financially accountable for faulty software, but the law allows developers to limit that liability to the purchase price of the software.

Subject Headings: Computer software | Roofs | Computer models | Failure analysis | Computer aided operations | Liability | Computer analysis | Roof failures | Connecticut | United States

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