Broken Theory

R. Scott King, BSME ::::

Case Synopsis: A commercial vehicle operator was fatally injured when his truck overturned at the bottom of a long descent. After the incident, investigators discovered that four of the truck’s eight brakes exceeded their re-adjustment limits and concluded this as a contributing factor. Upon learning this, the vehicle owner researched his maintenance records and found that the culprit brakes had been replaced by an independent service provider approximately 4,000 miles earlier. Subsequently, a suit was brought against the defendant repair shop alleging defective vehicle maintenance and service.  In his liability report, plaintiff’s expert concluded that the subject brakes could not have deteriorated to their post-incident condition unless they were improperly adjusted during the recent service. Defense experts agreed the brakes were out of adjustment, and were a contributing factor, but made several key points during trial that reduced plaintiff’s theory to guesswork.

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The Double Whammy

Johann F. Szautner, P.E, P.L.S. ::::

Case Synopsis: The lawn needed to be mowed. As the plaintiff walked from the driveway onto the lawn, and bent down to pick up a ball, she was struck by a falling tree branch. Fortunately, the tree limb landing on her shoulder was relatively light, but startled her. She made a hasty effort to get out of the perceived danger zone, and while looking up to the tree, tripped over a low tree stump, which remained after the tree was cut down earlier by the landlord. She suffered a broken ankle and lacerations in the resulting fall.

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There is a Satellite in My Sewer Pipe

Marlin E. Buckley, Registered Master Plumber ::::

Case Synopsis: An elderly homeowner purchased television service from one of the major satellite service providers.  As has been successfully done in thousands of similar satellite antenna installations throughout Philadelphia, the installer connected a small diameter pipe bracket to the edge of the soil stack vent with set screws.  Onto this bracket the antenna was fastened.  Months later, the homeowner and guests observed a foul odor throughout the house which they claimed was sewer gas.  It was claimed the antenna was blocking the stack vent, thus causing the sewer gas backup into the house. The homeowner retained counsel to bring suit against the television service.

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Airbag Deployment Moot Despite Faulty Sensor

R. Scott King, BSME, Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::

Case Synopsis: A passenger in a late model Toyota vehicle was seriously injured when the operator lost control of the vehicle and struck a concrete barrier.  After the incident, investigators observed that, while the driver’s front airbag deployed, the right front passenger’s airbag did not.  Neither operator nor injured passenger had any recollection of the incident.  The only available information regarding the occupants was contained in the police report indicating the passenger was seated in the right front seat. Based on the difference in airbag deployment, as well as the information in the police report, counsel representing the injured passenger initiated a forensic evaluation of the occupant restraint system.

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He said, She said: Let the evidence speak for itself.

Case Synopsis: A motorcycle and pickup truck were traveling in the same direction on a four-lane roadway.  As the pickup truck was entering an intersection, another vehicle turned in front of it, forcing the pickup operator to brake and/or steer to avoid it. The motorcyclist stated that he was traveling in the right lane alongside the pickup truck when the pickup truck swerved from the left lane to the right lane and contacted him in the intersection.  Conversely, the pickup truck operator claimed that he was in the left lane at all times, braked aggressively without leaving his lane, and never came into contact with the motorcyclist behind him in the left lane.

An independent witness who was stopped at the other side of the intersection testified that he observed the crash, but could not see if the truck swerved or contacted the motorcycle.  Furthermore, he testified that he could see the front wheel of the motorcycle come to a stop and the rear wheel of the motorcycle lift off the pavement as it crashed. 

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Operator Actions on Descent Suggest Driver Error

Case Synopsis: Safely descending a long grade in a commercial truck requires more than just a properly functioning braking system: it also requires careful operating procedures and familiarity with the truck and surroundings.  A recent case study demonstrates the very worst that can happen when all of these factors contribute in all the wrong ways.

The operator of a commercial tank truck was involved in a fatal, two-vehicle collision when his truck overturned at the bottom of a long grade.  As he began his descent, the operator immediately began experiencing braking problems.  Although he was able to limit his speed, he was unable to reduce it sufficiently to avoid overturning at the unexpected curve at the bottom of the grade.  His vehicle struck an oncoming passenger vehicle, fatally injuring its operator.

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Unexpected Platform Tilt Leads to Injuries

Case Synopsis:  A truck driver was injured while making a routine delivery to a supermarket that had a dock lift for unloading freight.  The dock lift had a hydraulically powered hoist that raised and lowered its platform between ground level and the truck bed elevation.  Delivery truck drivers were able to unload items directly onto the elevated platform before lowering it to the ground.  A movable control pendant enabled users to operate the dock lift while standing on the platform.  On the day of the accident, the driver backed his truck up and elevated the dock lift before using a jack to unload groceries.  He was injured seconds later when the dock lift platform unexpectedly tilted to one side and caused the pallet jack to slide toward him.

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Faulty Face Shield Proves Dangerous

Case Synopsis: A young boy was engaged in an afternoon of paint ball games.  He had recently purchased a new face mask that promised to protect his eyes with its clear, non-fogging, plastic face shield.  During the paint ball activities, the young boy’s face mask became foggy with condensed moisture on the inside of the face shield. The boy pulled the face shield off so he could see while the cloudy condensation cleared up; it was at that moment that he was hit in the eye with a paint ball, which resulted in serious injury to his eye.  After several operations, the boy eventually regained about twenty percent vision in the injured eye.

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The Frozen Turkey and the Plastic Grocery Bag

Richard F. Lynch, Ph. D, Metallurgy & Materials Science ::::

Case Synopsis: The plaintiff received a free turkey from a major supermarket chain. The bag had been vacuum packed in its own plastic bag, with a metal clip at the bottom. The package had been placed in a store T-Shirt design plastic bag by the check-out clerk before handing it over to the plaintiff. When the plaintiff was lifting the frozen turkey out of her vehicle, the store-supplied plastic bag tore at the seam in the bottom. The frozen turkey fell on her toe and caused injury. The plaintiff held the supermarket chain solely responsible for her injuries.

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