I recently encountered a similar situation on a 480V system, and I actually anticipate to soon encounter a worse situation on the companion 208V system at the same site! A significant difference, though, is that I am the professional engineer representative of the owner, not his emergency repair contractor. I can, may, and did, define the repair procedure for the contractor. That relationship undoubtedly helped out great deal because the contractor did not have to face the same potential consequences posed for the contractor in your example. However, were I in the situation therein described, I would proceed as follows:

• I would temporarily stop my crew’s activities when I arrived at the scene.

• Then, I would photograph or video record the site conditions when arrived. (Actually, when I received the call, I would bring my camcorder with me. If I did not have it with me and the mall manager did not have any photo recording device, I’d go to the nearest shop in the mall and buy even a throw-away 35 mm camera for the purpose.)

• Then, I’d study the electrical problem to determine the best solution for restoring power as requested by the mall manager. If I felt unable to achieve his desired goals – for whatever reason(s) – I would so advise him.

• If, after my discussing with the mall manager the exact scope of work for which he would hire me and the significance of my work and activity as it might relate to the other relevant parties and their wishes, needs, and expectations, the mall manager and I had a good faith understanding of my exact scope of activity for him and, the anticipated time of my work completion under the work conditions, which he, alone, controlled, then I would proceed as he directed. I would not interview the injured electrician, except to the limited objective that he was available to, and capable of, describing the site conditions he observed when he prepared to execute his work, what work he intended to do, and what events occurred when he did it. I would similarly make inquiry of my own crew who arrived before me.

The responsibility for the scope and pace of my work, as directed by the mall manager, belongs to him. He controls what and when I will perform. The assessment of damages resulting from the prior work of others, the ascertaining of any negligence by others, etc., belongs to others than me. My duty and obligations are to serve the mall manager in the manner in which I was implicitly expert. If requested, I would share my understanding of, and prior experience, if any, with the perspectives of the attorney, insurance company, forensic engineer, et al, for what it was worth. But their control over what I did would only be through the mall manager, as he best determined.

Herbert Argintar, P.E., NSPE

Read on for the next letter.