R. Scott King, BSME ::::
Case Synopsis: A tractor-trailer, as well as its load of high-end consumer electronic equipment was severely damaged by a fire that reportedly began in the tractor. A preliminary fire investigation revealed that the fire began in the engine compartment; however, the cause was initially reported as indeterminate. Carriers for the tractor, trailer, and load retained an independent engineer to evaluate the available data and physical evidence to determine, if possible, the fire’s cause.
Expert Analysis: The investigation began with a review of the driver statements indicating the fire originated in the engine compartment. Research of the vehicle’s recall and service history revealed an on-going safety recall related to lose fuel injector lines within the engine compartment. A subsequent vehicle inspection identified heat and burn patterns consistent with the fire originating within the right side of the engine compartment, near the fuel injectors. Further examination revealed that one of the fuel injector lines, located within inches of the engine exhaust manifold, was indeed loose. After documenting the looseness with measurements and video, the vehicle was placed in a secure forensic storage facility to preserve the evidence for possible future examination.
The analysis demonstrated that the injector line had loosened during vehicle use because it was not properly tightened after a routine engine service. Based on the testimony, the technician that performed the service did so using the tools and procedures prescribed by the manufacturer; however, testimony also revealed that numerous engine accessories made it impossible to properly tighten the fuel lines with those prescribed tools and procedures. As a result, fuel lines were subject to progressive loosening resulting in increased risk of fire.
Result: The various parties successfully subrogated against the defendant engine manufacturer and settled the matter.