Accidental Fall or Intentional Jump?

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Robert J. Nobilini, Ph.D. ::::

Case Synopsis:  A man alleged that while he was attempting to deposit trash in a dumpster, located in a dark alleyway behind a restaurant, he unexpectedly stepped into and fell to the bottom of an open shaft.  The man claimed that a section of metal grating had been removed from the opening.  However, there was no reasonable explanation for why the grating would have been removed, and there was also circumstantial evidence that the man was attempting to enter the restaurant through the shaft.

Expert Analysis:  A biomechanical analysis revealed that the man’s injuries were consistent with him falling from a height and then landing squarely on both feet while his body was in an upright position.

The man testified that his right foot was still in contact with the sidewalk when he unexpectedly stepped sideways into the hole with his left foot.  This contact would have caused the man’s body to rotate to his left as his center of mass dropped down into the shaft.  Under these circumstances, it was probable that the man would not have been upright when he landed and would not have landed squarely on both feet.  Therefore, if the man fell as he described, he would have incurred a different pattern of injuries.  Furthermore, the man testified that after landing, he fell forward onto his outstretched hands.  Had the man been facing the dumpster when he fell into the shaft, he would have been facing and in close proximity to the west wall of the shaft when he landed.  Therefore, if he fell forward after landing, he would have fallen into the west wall and not onto the ground as he testified.  The analysis revealed that the manner in which the man landed was not consistent with his description of how he fell.

An examination of the incident shaft revealed that there was a 10 inch diameter pipe running across the shaft, approximately 5-1/2 feet below the sidewalk.  The man’s injuries and the manner in which the he landed were consistent with the man removing a section of the grating, lowering himself onto the top of the pipe, and then intentionally jumping to the bottom of the shaft. 

Result:  The case settled.

 

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