Slip & Fall: What was the Source of the Leak?

Slip and Fall Expert

Bryan J. Smith, P.E., Construction Site Safety/Slip, Trip and Fall Expert

Case Description: A bank manager entered the employee break room, where they slipped and fell due to the presence of a clear liquid on the floor. Shortly before this occurred, an irrigation system water line was found to be cracked and spraying water at the exterior of the building for approximately three hours. The plaintiff’s expert alleged that the presence of the clear liquid at the incident location was due to the broken irrigation line.

Expert Analysis: A site survey was conducted approximately 3½ years after the incident to gather evidence on behalf of the defendants. Data collected during the site inspection led to the creation of a partial basement floor plan. Measurements were taken of the distance between the incident location and the leaking irrigation pipe. It was determined that the distance between the two locations was 18 feet (see the image, above). The plaintiff’s expert took no field measurements, with the exception of the Coefficient of Friction (COF) of the incident flooring, which was measured using a tribometer. His predictable results concluded that the wet vinyl floor tile was slippery when wet. Without even a rudimentary root cause analysis, this expert concluded that the leaking irrigation pipe was the proximate source of wetness observed on the incident flooring, as well as the proximate cause for the incident.

Trial testimony given by the expert for the defense pointed out multiple potential sources of water on the floor, in addition to the obvious irrigation leak. An investigation to quantify the leak’s calculated water loss into the building’s exterior area,showed that the leak contributed a meager 117 gallons of water onto the ground’s surface, 18 feet away from the incident location. Comparatively, a rainstorm can deposit 168 gallons of water to a hypothetically small area of 18 feet by 5 feet. Another comparison was made using the flow rate of the adjacent sprinkler nozzles, which determined that just two nozzles released triple the amount of water than the leak could produce. Witnesses stated that the basement had no history of leaking before or subsequent to the alleged incident. Trial testimony given by the defense’s expert also pointed out that there was a sink immediately adjacent to the incident location, as well as a coffee station and other plumbing which showed signs of past leaks. The water involved in the alleged incident was clear, which indicated that it likely was not present due to percolation through the ground outside the basement’s walls. Additionally, there was no water found in the restrooms or other areas located between the leaking irrigation pipe and the incident location in the kitchen. Had that not been the case, it would have indicated that the leaking irrigation pipe’s discharge had likely been the source of the water in the building’s basement kitchen as well.

Result: The plaintiff’s trial resulted in a defendant’s decision.

Bryan J. Smith, P.E., Construction Site Safety/Slip, Trip and Fall Expert with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.

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