Plaintiff Falls Through Guardrail

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Robert J. Nobilini, PH.D. ::::

Case Synopsis:  A man was injured when he fell through a guardrail at his residence.  The house was constructed with an exterior doorway in the second story kitchen. The guardrail was mounted across the outside of the doorway.  The man opened the door and was leaning over the guardrail, emptying debris out of a suitcase when the guardrail gave way and the man fell to the ground below. 

Expert Analysis: A civil engineer was retained to determine if the guardrail was correctly mounted in accordance with applicable codes and standards.  The guardrail was mounted with four screws. The load capacity of each screw was approximately 44.5 pounds.  As a result, the guardrail failed to meet the requirements of the 2003 International Building Code (IBC), which required a load support of 200 pounds applied in any direction at any point along the top of the guardrail.  However, the inadequate guardrail was only a cause of the subject incident, if the plaintiff was applying a load of less than 200 pounds at the time of the incident.

A Biomechanical analysis was performed to determine the amount of load that the plaintiff was applying to the guardrail when it gave way.  The analysis was based on the height and weight of the plaintiff; dimensions and weight of the incident suitcase; height of the incident guardrail, and testimony of the plaintiff regarding his position and actions at the time of the incident.  Based on this analysis, it was determined that the plaintiff was applying a lateral load of approximately 14 pounds to the top of the guardrail when it failed.

A second analysis was performed in order to determine an upper value for the amount of load that the plaintiff could have possibly applied to the top of the guardrail.  This analysis resulted in a lateral load of approximately 94 pounds. 

Results: The Biomechanical analysis revealed that the plaintiff was applying a load of less than 94 pounds to the top of the guardrail when it failed.  Had the guardrail been constructed to resist 200 pounds, as required by the 2003 IBC, the subject incident and the plaintiff’s subsequent injuries would have been prevented. The case was settled favorably for the plaintiff.

 

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