James R. Schmidt, Jr., BSME, Senior Collision Reconstruction Engineer
Recently, I was involved in a non-deployment crash while returning home from my parents’ house. Two-lane rural roadway. Nighttime, dry, clear conditions. No street lighting. Dark lighting conditions. And when I say it was dark, I mean it was dark … you weren’t seeing anything other than what was visible in your headlight range.
As I recall, I was cruising along at 50 mph, when a deer ran out in front of me. It came from my left, across the opposing lane of travel, and into my lane in a flash.
Wham, a collision occurred! I had absolutely no chance to avoid. No airbag deployment, but plenty of damage to my vehicle. Given the severity of the collision, I knew right away there was no chance that the deer survived (and that was, in fact, confirmed at the scene). I called 911 and was instructed by the police department to clear whatever was dragging from my vehicle myself, and, “move on my way;” but, that’s neither here nor there.
Bryan J. Smith, P.E., Construction Site Safety / Slip, Trip and Fall Expert
Case Description/Summary: The plaintiff was bicycling on a public street which was located at the side of a bank’s property. As she entered the bank’s driveway ramp, a ground surface defect caused her bicycle to become unstable, though it did not fall. The plaintiff quickly tried to stabilize the bicycle by taking her feet off of the bicycle’s foot pedals and placing them onto the ground in order to prevent the bike and herself from falling onto the sidewalk. As she attempted to do so, she was struck by an automobile being driven by one of the defendants. The plaintiff alleged that the motor vehicle collision caused her injuries.
R. Scott King, BSME, CFEI, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer
Like most industries and professions, the automotive repair industry is subject to a variety of guidelines, standards, and regulations that form the basis for many of the processes and procedures utilized during vehicle repair. Some of these are well-established and clearly defined, while others are not. Periodically, questions of liability arise that relate directly back to these “standards-of-care” concepts that require specialized expertise.
In a recent case, the owner of a vintage automobile took his vehicle to an automotive body shop to diagnose and repair concerns related to a door latch. Technicians at the shop diagnosed the concern, communicated the remedy along with related costs to the owner, and with the owner’s approval, performed the needed repairs. Shortly thereafter, the owner was involved in a collision wherein it was alleged that a steering defect contributed to the collision. The owner subsequently sued the body shop – which was also a registered safety inspection station – alleging the shop should have test-driven the vehicle upon completing the door repairs, and had they done so, would have identified the alleged steering defect.
In another case, the operator of a commercial tractor-trailer was involved in a single-vehicle collision wherein he lost control on a rain-slicked roadway. There, the allegation was that the tires on his tractor were sufficiently worn such that they required replacement by the service facility responsible for that truck’s maintenance. Even though the documented tread depth, recorded both before and after the incident, exceeded federal standards, as well as the truck owner’s own more stringent standards, the claim remained that the shop should have replaced the tires because they were approaching the end of their useful life, and had they been replaced, the incident would not have occurred.
Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., Aquatic Safety Expert
This case was highly unusual and tragic on many levels. A well-known swim school with a long history of success and safety was sued by the parents of a child who died after she participated in a morning swim class. What made this case so unusual is that the young girl participated in swim lessons in the morning and then was found later that evening by her parents, unresponsive in the bathtub.
One of the popular activities during swim lessons is to challenge children to jump or push off the pool deck and swim to the instructor standing several feet away in the water. When this young child attempted to perform this skill as she had done in the past, she choked on some water. The swim instructor lifted her out of the water, comforted her, and placed her on the pool deck allowing her to play on dry land rather than participate in the next water activity. The instructor was not overly concerned as this happens frequently during swim lessons.
The parents claimed that when they picked up the child from swimming lessons, she was just not the same. During the remainder of the day she demonstrated various degrees of fatigue and loss of appetite. As a result of the child’s behavior, around 8 PM in the evening, the parents placed her in a warm bath and left her unattended for an undisclosed amount of time. When the parents did not hear her making any sounds in the tub, they checked on her and found her laying sideways, unresponsive in the shallow water in the tub. The parents claimed the swim school and staff were negligent in many areas, but mostly for not informing the parents their child had choked on “copious” amounts of water and needed medical attention. Some medical experts in this case claimed she died as a result of hyponatremia, a rare medical condition caused by drinking too much water which changes the sodium levels in the body and eventually can kill. Defense experts claimed hyponatremia is exceedingly rare, sometimes occurring in infants, endurance athletes, and those with mental health issues. Occasionally when this medical malady does occur, the symptoms (coughing, fatigue) show up most often in the first couple hours of the event, not eight hours later.
Robert T. Lynch, P.E., Principal Collision Reconstruction Engineer
An adult bicyclist was traveling at night on the left side of a 40-mile-per-hour, two-lane roadway with little to no shoulder when he was struck by the passenger side mirror of a passing vehicle. The bicyclist sustained an injury to his right arm. An investigation revealed there were no active lights on the bicycle, only retroreflectors.
The bicyclist brought suit against the driver for not avoiding the collision. An expert for the bicyclist opined that even though the bicyclist was in the wrong for riding on the left side of the roadway without a headlight, the vehicle operator should/could have observed the retroreflectors, understood their meaning, and avoided the collision. The vehicle operator had a minimal insurance policy which was tendered; however, the bicyclist brought an underinsured motorist (UIM) claim against his own insurance company.
Bryan J. Smith, P.E., Construction Site Safety/Slip, Trip and Fall Expert
Case Description/Summary: A laundromat patron approached the facility’s side entrance door from the exterior. After opening the door, she tripped on a 5-gallon cigarette bucket as she attempted to move out of her partner’s way into the building. The plaintiff’s expert alleged that the presence of the cigarette bucket at the incident location was due to the laundromat owner’s negligence and that the bucket infringed on patrons’ ability to egress the facility during emergent situations and hence violated the fire code.
Expert Analysis: A trip and fall expert was engaged by counsel for the defendant’s insurance company. A site survey was conducted just over 3 years after the incident to gather evidence on behalf of the defendant. Data collected during the site inspection led to the identification of the required means of egress pathway, necessary to comply with the adopted International Fire Code (IFC). The IFC defined “MEANS OF EGRESS. A continuous and unobstructed path of vertical and horizontal egress travel from any occupied portion of a building or structure to a public way. A means of egress consists of three separate and distinct parts: the exit access, the exit and the exit discharge.” IFC Section 1030.2 stated: “Reliability. Required exit accesses, exits or exit discharges shall be continuously maintained free from obstructions or impediments to full instant use in the case of fire or other emergency when the areas served by such exits are occupied.”