Case Synopsis: An employee of an outdoor adventure facility was participating in an in-house training scenario where the employees were to complete a rope course. One of the obstacles involved a giant swing that used a carabiner to connect the participant’s harness to a swing line attached to two trees. A second line was connected to a quick release and was used to pull or haul the participant approximately 25 feet up. The participant pulled a small rope to actuate the release mechanism, which dropped the haul line and allowed the participant to swing from the swing line.
Several other participants had safely used the giant swing on the day of the incident prior to the plaintiff’s turn. When it was his turn, the plaintiff went to the bottom of the swing where the operator (another employee) connected the two lines and the plaintiff was hauled up. When the plaintiff pulled the release rope, he was completely discharged from the swing and fell approximately 25 feet to the ground where he sustained serious injuries.
R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
Among the two most common allegations of vehicle failure after an incident are unintended acceleration and brake failure. Experience has shown that each type of failure is rare but they can and do occur; however, when the allegations are coincident, the likelihood of such a simultaneous failure is even more remote. In these cases, the most plausible explanation is operator error; however, historically proving this has been difficult if not impossible. But new vehicle technologies and the event data recorder (EDR) are changing that.
By now, most claims personnel are aware that many vehicles are equipped with event data recorders capable of recording information relative to a collision. These devices have proven their worth to collision reconstruction engineers over and over. But what many are not aware of is that most new vehicles today are equipped with an electronic throttle control system that uses sensors, wiring, and algorithms to translate accelerator pedal position to the throttle control valve, located on the engine. Fewer still are aware that the EDR in many vehicles can record accelerator pedal position versus throttle control valve position. In simpler terms, the EDR can tell whether a vehicle accelerated on its own, or under driver command, via application of the accelerator pedal. Couple this with the EDR’s ability to record brake pedal application, it provides an independent “witness” of how the pedals were used in the moments preceding a collision.
John R. Yannaccone, PE, Senior Mechanical Engineer ::::
Case Synopsis: One evening at closing time, an employee at a self-storage facility opened an electric gate to allow a car to drive out of the facility. As the driver was leaving, he stopped his car in the path of the gate to talk to an employee and a customer. The customer was standing next to the stopped car, adjacent to the gate. Suddenly, the gate began to close and pinned the customer between the gate and the car. The driver moved forward to prevent the gate from hitting his car, but this caused the pinned customer to be twisted between the car and gate, resulting in additional injury.
Expert Analysis: By the time an engineer was retained to investigate the cause of the incident, the storage facility had replaced the gate operator and disposed of the system in use at the time of the incident. Based on the materials provided, the following was determined:
R. Scott King, BSME, Principle Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
Vehicle repair industry standards exist primarily to promote the safety of the women and men that service passenger vehicles and commercial trucks, as well as that of the motoring public in general. Sometimes, however, these standards can protect the misfortunate few, who by improbable circumstances, are exposed to risks that often accompany a seemingly benign vehicle repair procedure.
Consider for example the case of a commercial truck owner who had taken his truck to a local repair shop to diagnose a complaint of loose steering. With his shop filled with other vehicles, the mechanic elected to perform the inspection outside his building in an area not subject to customer proximity restrictions. While the mechanic was replacing the worn steering component, the curious truck owner was standing behind the kneeling mechanic to observe the process.
Robert S. Kinder, Jr., MS, Mechanical Engineer ::::
In the current digital era, privacy is becoming more of a concern especially since the advent of smartphones. Cell phone capabilities are increasing and so is the availability of recoverable data. When a cell phone is used to make calls or send text messages, it must communicate with nearby cell towers. As the data transmits, a trail of breadcrumbs is left behind potentially providing a means of determining location during the time a call or text was initiated. On June 22, 2018 the Supreme Court said that the government generally needs a warrant to obtain cell phone location data. What if your car has the ability to record location and cell phone data?
R. Scott King, BSME, Senior Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer known to be caused by asbestos. A once common component in automotive brake pads and shoes, as well as clutch discs and gasket materials, asbestos has since become strongly correlated with cases of mesothelioma in auto mechanics.
In a recent case, a retired auto mechanic pursued a product liability case alleging his mesothelioma was caused by exposure to defendant’s brake components he had been servicing his entire career. Proceeding on a failure-to-warn theory, plaintiff retained a warnings expert who provided opinions that the defendant’s product lacked appropriate warnings. However, because this warnings expert had no automotive background, he was unable to render opinions as to whether the warnings he proposed could have been applied to the target components without affecting their form, fit, and function. In response, plaintiff retained an automotive engineer to evaluate the warnings and the products for which they were intended. Citing the fact that brake manufacturers typically mark their brake pads and shoes with part numbers, company logos, production “lot” numbers, and friction formulation information, the engineering review affirmed the fact that information of all kinds, including warnings, can be placed on the components without affecting their form, fit, and function. The expert “team” approach facilitated an early settlement.