Leonard J. Backer, Furniture Industry and Seating Expert
Case Synopsis: Plaintiff was an adult male sitting in an indoor lounge area of a restaurant, waiting to be seated for dinner. The subject chair was a heavy wood frame design with an upholstered seat and back. After sitting for several minutes, the chair frame loosened up and then completely separated at one of the critical frame connection points and the chair collapsed; plaintiff falling onto the tile floor and sustaining injuries. Plaintiff claimed that the incident was the result of a “manufacturing defect,” and an expert was retained by the defendant chair manufacturer.
Expert Analysis: Based on a review of certain documents, it was determined that the subject chair was over 7 years old at the time of the incident. In addition to reviewing the manufacturer’s sales literature and catalog specifications, a site visit was conducted to inspect the subject chair, along with exemplar chairs still in use after 10+ years.
Based on the inspection and additional background details, it was determined that the subject chair was subjected to heavy use and misuse, as well as certain outdoor and non-climate-controlled conditions over its 7+ year life. The integrity of the subject wood armchair frame was compromised over time. With no proper inspection, care, or maintenance procedures in place at the restaurant, the frame joints loosened, enabling the subject frame to collapse. In this type of heavy use environment, any possible manufacturing or design defects in a chair will normally manifest themselves within the first 12 to 18 months. Being that the subject chair incident occurred 7 years after the chair was installed, and that 11 of the exemplar chairs were still in use after 10 years (as of the site visit), reinforces the fact that the chairs were properly manufactured for their intended hospitality use.
During discovery, it became clear that the chairs were regularly stored in a box truck parked outdoors at a loading dock (under high humidity conditions) when not in use. Commercial wood chairs are engineered to be used only in climate and temperature controlled indoor environments. Exposure to heat and moisture will lead to “swelling” of the joints and eventual loosening over time. In addition, the chairs were sometimes placed in an outdoor front patio area on a rough concrete floor. This also accelerates the overall deterioration of the frame joint integrity on a wood chair.
Result: Case settled
Leonard J. Backer, Furniture Industry and Seating Expert with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.