CABINETRY & MILLWORK
Defective Design or Defective Workmanship?
Who is responsible?
By Michael Panish
Cabinetry & Millwork Expert Witness
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My job as a cabinetry and millwork expert witness is to inspect and evaluate
casework, cabinetry, or millwork that may have either failed or may be
deficient in some way. Many of the past cases where I have been designated
as the cabinetry and millwork expert witness have involved analyzing products
that no longer exist because they have either been replaced or destroyed.
What is available for review is often in the form of architectural elevations
(renderings), photographs of the damaged cabinetry, or shop drawings and
samples of the materials that were used. Generally, there is a question
as to what entity is responsible for the monetary loss sustained. The
usual course of action by attorneys is to sue all parties in the chain
of events, from design through installation.
Many times a cursory inspection reveals basic construction flaws that were
the fault of the fabricators and installers. A cabinet job simply was
not manufactured to satisfy the needs of the client, either in form, size
or function, or the perfectly built cabinetry was ruined by the inexperienced
or low quality installation. Many times finishes are the prime concern.
The ultimate appearance of the finished product may not be acceptable
to the owner or the client. Misrepresentation of products, finish samples
and unconfirmed choices are often to blame for the latter dispute. Further
disputes develop over contracted services, promises and agreements that
were not specifically spelled out in the work order or project contract.
In some cases, the client or unhappy owner is unrealistic as to their
expectations and are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions.
Resolving the above disputes is generally an easier situation than a case
that results in serious personal injury. It is mostly a matter of book
keeping, record analysis, and knowledge of the industry practices and
standards that dictate the equitable settlement of these claims.
In a personal injury claim, the stakes are usually much greater. The responsibility
of the individually involved parties is more difficult to quantify and
isolate and sometimes liability is shared and commingled. The size and
scope of the project often influences the various levels of culpability
of the involved parties.
When discussing a major project for a hotel remodel, such as cabinetry,
casework, or millwork, it is usually part of a total design package initiated
by the design and development department of that entity. Sometimes designs
are generated from in-house designers but are often contracted out to
an outside designer service. If a new retail outlet such as a bank or
chain store requires new cabinets, a designer or architect usually becomes
the lead entity. Conceptual designs are frequently contracted out to specific
trades through these architectural and or design firms to develop a standardized
franchise concept. In the case of a housing tract or condominium development,
architects and designer services generally share the development of the
spatial and cosmetic concepts in these projects.
In all cases, individual circumstances affect the level of involvement
and participation percentage that an entity claims interest in. Design
flaws created by an architect or designer could be directly linked to
product failure. A responsible cabinet manufacturer must have the competence
and ability to interpret flaws in a design concept and address the problem
prior to fabrication of these flawed products. While an architect could
be seen as the general overseer of a project and ultimately responsible
for the injury, it has also been the case that the ultimate liability
for an injury can be the responsibility of the last person that touched
the product. However, every case is different.
In one recent personal injury case that took place in a renovated hotel,
blame was shared among six different parties. The cabinet contractor,
cabinet installers, designers, architects, hotel management and project
managers were all willing to participate in settlement. In another case
which is still ongoing, each contractor and designer involved is attempting
to place the blame on every entity but themselves in an effort to remove
their level of involvement and extricate their companies from the lawsuit.
It is of the utmost importance to find a cabinetry expert witness that
has had years of hands on experience in these types of projects. There
are many variables that would only be known to a skilled tradesman, and
questions that can be formulated with the help of this expert will greatly
enhance the perspective that can be formulated after accurate and precise
questions are answered during your discovery and investigation.
Michael Panish is an expert witness, forensic analyst, and consultant in
the field of construction. He is licensed in the State of California as
a General Building Contractor, Cabinet & Millwork Contractor, Door,
Lock & Security Equipment Contractor, Paint & Finish Contractor,
and Electrical Contractor. Mr. Panish has over 35 years of hands-on experience
in the construction industry. He has been involved in concept designs
for Hotels, hospitals, chain stores and franchised retail stores. He has
participated in cabinet and millwork defect cases throughout the country.
He has been designated as lead expert in the field of cabinets and millwork
and has been consultant for both plaintiff and defense. Mr. Panish has
provided testimony in construction defect, poor workmanship, product liability,
and personal injury cases relating to most construction trades, doors,
locks, automatic doors, cabinetry, and custom casework. Mr. Panish has
offices in California and the New England area and is available for nationwide
consultation, forensic analysis, inspection, report, and testimony. Michael
Panish can be reached at www.ConstructionWitness.com for more information.
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