In re Gregory J. Bombardier
Stephen A. Reynes, Appellate Officer William L. Gagnon of
Heilmann, Ekman, Cooley & Gagnon, Inc., Burlington, for
Elizabeth A. St. James, Office of Professional Regulation,
Montpelier, for Appellee.
PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson, Eaton and Carroll,
1. Respondent is a professional engineer licensed by the
State of Vermont. He challenges the Board of Professional
Engineering's decision, affirmed by an administrative
officer from the Office of Professional Regulation (OPR),
that he engaged in unprofessional conduct. We affirm.
2. In August 2015, OPR provided respondent with a
Specification of Charges. It included a statement of facts
concerning respondent's investigation of an insurance
claim, detailed below. It faulted respondent for the
inspection itself as well as his failure to review or
reconsider his opinion after being provided with contrary
opinions from a contractor and another engineer. OPR alleged,
among other things, that respondent committed unprofessional
conduct in violation of 3 V.S.A. § 129a(b)(1) and (2)
because, on a single occasion, he failed to conform to the
essential standards of acceptable and prevailing practice.
3. Following a contested hearing, the Board made the
following findings. In 2014, respondent was hired by an
insurance adjuster on behalf of an insurance company to
investigate a claim filed by Rand Larson against Atlas
Plumbing & Heating, LLC. Mr. Larson alleged that Atlas
had notched a support beam while installing radiant heating
in his home, causing his floor to buckle. The notch, which
was approximately 2.5 inches deep and 5.5 inches wide, was
located at the top of a double two-by-twelve-inch beam that
ran under the proposed kitchen area of Mr. Larson's home.
Respondent was asked to provide his opinion on the cause of
the floor buckling. Respondent conducted his investigation
solely for Atlas's insurance carrier. Mr. Larson did not
hire respondent and had no contractual relationship with him.
4. Mr. Larson had the flooring work done as part of a broader
home renovation project. As part of this project, Mr. Larson
also had a building contractor install a skirt on the north
side of the house to conceal the foundation and cantilevered
construction. Concrete sonotubes were installed to attach and
support the skirt. The sonotubes were not intended to support
the house itself, which had cantilevered over the concrete
foundation walls since 1993. After Mr. Larson discovered the
notched beam, he also had the contractor perform remedial
work intended to shore up the north wall of the house from
the exterior, including jacking and installing additional
vertical supports beneath the north wall.
5. Respondent inspected Mr. Larson's home on June 20,
2014. At that time, the remedial shoring work was in
progress. Mr. Larson was not present, but his contractor was.
The skirting had been removed from a portion of the north
wall; excavation was in progress; two sonotubes could be seen
under the rim joist; a third sonotube lay nearby on the
ground; and a bottle jack was visible beneath a wood beam and
adjacent to what appeared to be a new wood post. The sonotube
at the east end of the exposed area was shimmed to the
underside of the rim joist, and appeared new compared to the
weathered surface of the other two sonotubes.
6. Respondent also observed sandbags placed near the
southeast corner of the house, which he inferred were to
divert stormwater. He saw that a sonotube placed in the
general area of the settlement was out of plumb. Respondent
assumed that the sonotubes were "foundational
elements" that had been installed to support the
rimboard under the north wall.
7. Respondent then viewed the notched beam from above through
a hole that had been cut in the flooring. [*] He observed that there was no
cracking or splintering of the beam in the notch area. He was
unable to see the notched beam from below. Respondent
concluded that the floor settlement was not caused by the
notched beam, but rather by settlement of the exterior
sonotube due to excessive stormwater runoff and the excessive
freeze and thaw cycles of Vermont winters.
8. Following respondent's inspection, Mr. Larson hired
another engineer, James Baker, to investigate the cause of
the floor settlement. Mr. Baker believed that the notched
beam caused the floor to settle. After receiving Mr.
Baker's report, Mr. Larson contacted respondent seeking a
reinspection; respondent did not respond. The insurance
company provided respondent with a copy of the Baker report,
asking whether there was anything in it that would cause
respondent to reinspect the property or question his own
opinion. Respondent saw nothing in the Baker report that
caused him to question his own opinion. In August 2014, the
insurer denied Mr. Larson's claim. Mr. Larson
subsequently sent an email to respondent, threatening to sue
him and to file a professional complaint against him if he
"continue[d] to fail to consider the irrefutable proof
that we hold that totally refutes your conclusions!" Mr.
Larson then filed a professional complaint against
9. As noted above, OPR alleged that respondent committed
unprofessional conduct by conducting a deficient
investigation and by refusing to reconsider his conclusion
after being provided with evidence "that his findings
were incorrect" from a contractor and engineer hired by
Mr. Larson. In its Specification of Charges, OPR asserted
that "[a]fter receiving multiple conclusions and
opinions from other knowledgeable tradesmen or other
professional engineers that are contrary to one's own,
the essential standards of acceptable and prevailing practice
require a professional engineer to review or reconsider the
professional opinion he or she rendered in light of the
10. The Board did not find that respondent committed
unprofessional conduct by failing to review or reconsider his
opinion. It agreed with respondent that there was no new
information in the Baker report that would cause respondent
to question his own opinion. It noted that respondent ...