Category: Accident Investigation & Reconstruction

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionForensic Accident InvestigationTransportation

Southwest Airlines Engine Failure: Aviation Accident Investigation

If you are anything like me, you have constant access to your Twitter feed. Besides the fact that it’s a platform for developing relationships with professionals across the world, it is my source for news. I use it to find out what is going on in the justice system, legal technology, and world events. Today, my feed erupted with news of a Southwest Airlines emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport. If you use Twitter, your feed probably reacted similarly.

According to an article from CBS Channel 3 in Philadelphia, the airliner made a successful emergency landing, “after an engine blew out as the plane left LaGuardia Airport in New York on Tuesday morning.”

It seems that after the explosion in the engine, some shrapnel damaged one of the passenger windows causing the plane to depressurize. Early reports describe one passenger as being partially sucked out of the plane at the broken window. A horrifically frightening event for certain. Luckily, the plane made a safe emergency landing. It appears several passengers were injured and one life was lost.

These incidents leave passengers shaken and afraid. Some suffer physical and emotional damage. Those of us who hear of these events experience a feeling of unease the next time we have to take a flight. Safety, is the top priority for travelers and transportation companies alike, which is why agencies like the NTSB react swiftly to the news of an emergency landing due to engine failure. At the time of this writing, the NTSB is about to hold their first news conference on this aviation accident.

Since matters like this often lead to litigation, I reached out to some of our aviation accident investigation and reconstruction expert witnesses. As of publication, I received one response. We will update the blog post if other responses come in.

I provided six questions to aviation expert witness Robert Ditchey. You can learn more about Mr. Ditchey by visiting his website Ditchey.com.

Let’s hear from the aviation accident investigator:

Nick: Where would an aviation accident investigation begin?

Mr. Ditchey: The most important starting point is to quarantine the aircraft itself and do a thorough inspection of the aircraft and all of its parts and components.  That is quickly followed by an examination of the maintenance records, which are also quarantined immediately.

Nick: Is it common for an engine failure to break a window and cause cabin depressurization?

Mr. Ditchey: Engine failure itself is today very uncommon.  It is even more uncommon to have resultant damage to the aircraft as a result of engine failure.  The engine is designed to contain any mechanical damage to the engine.

Nick: It seems an incident like this has a variety of different issues including: engine failure, engine maintenance, safety protocols, aircrew training and response to emergency. What issue takes priority?

Mr. Ditchey: None take priority per se.  All are very important.

Nick: What is the NTSB’s priority in responding to this incident?

Mr. Ditchey: NTSB’s first priority is to discover what caused the engine failure.

Nick: What is the airline’s priority in responding to this incident?

Mr. Ditchey: Find out what happened and ensure that it won’t happen again.

Nick: Any thoughts or comments you would like to add…

Mr. Ditchey: The traveling public needs to be assured that the odds of a fatality are minuscule and that nobody is going to get hurt.  Next, we all need to give the NTSB some breathing time and our patience to let the investigators do their job.

 

 

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionAccident SafetyExpert Witness

Tesla and Uber Self-Driving Systems Result in Fatal Crashes

In the last few weeks we have read several news reports about self-driving car accidents. Tesla and Uber, two companies leading innovation in driverless automobiles, have recently experienced fatal collisions which have hampered their autonomous testing. These are not the first instances of fatal crashes using the self-piloting systems. However, the collisions happened in such a close time frame, the public had to take notice.

On March 18, an Uber autonomous vehicle (AV) was involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian. A Phoenix Business Journal article describes video of incident as follows:

“The video shows the victim Elaine Herzberg walking her bike in the middle of the road. It does not show the actual collision “due to the graphic nature of the impact,” said Det. Liliana Duran in an email. The video also shows an interior view of the driver looking down at something off and on, possibly a phone or computer screen, before looking up in surprise right before the car hits the woman.”

Due to the graphic nature of the video, we have decided not to share it here. There appears to be some elements of distracted driving involved in this crash. Human error seems to have combined with a failure by the autonomous (self-piloting) system, to identify the pedestrian and brake or take evasive action to avoid the collision.

About 5 days after the Uber crash, Tesla experienced a similar incident while their autopilot system was engaged. Engadget reported on this accident explaining:

“The driver of a Model X has died after his electric SUV collided with a median barrier on Highway 101 in Mountain View and was subsequently struck by two other vehicles. The incident destroyed the front half of the vehicle and sparked a fire that involved the battery, leading to Tesla sending an employee to investigate. Witnesses reported seeing a fireball during the crash.”

In a follow-up article today, Engadget has gone on to state that the NTSB is unhappy that Tesla shared information about the accident. Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, went ahead and blogged that autopilot was engaged but that the driver had removed his hands from the steering wheel for the six seconds prior to impact. The NTSB says Tesla has been cooperative in all previous accident investigations, but evidently they did not want this information made public. Also, it seems the deceased driver, had some concerns about the autopilot system according to his family.

The family claims “he had brought concerns to a Tesla dealership that his Model X had previously swerved toward the same median where the accident happened.”

What gets investigated when autopilot fails?

Readers may think that some elaborate investigation needs to take place since we are dealing with driverless automobiles. The truth is, this boils down to an automotive / vehicular accident reconstruction issue.

Certainly there is advanced programming involved and the crash data retrieval (CDR) may require new methods or new technologies to access information, but the data must be recovered nonetheless.

The NTSB even states, “At this time the NTSB needs the assistance of Tesla to decode the data the vehicle recorded.” They probably require help in accessing the data from Tesla’s proprietary system, but it is still a matter of CDR. If Elon Musk knows that the driver removed his hands from the wheel for six seconds prior to impact, he must have learned of this through the data retrieval process used by Tesla.

The same is true in the Uber crash. They already have dash-cam footage that shows the vehicle did not slow before striking the pedestrian. In that instance, an accident recontstructionist, automotive engineer, or automotive software engineer will have to analyze the self-driving sensors, data, and response of the software, to determine why the car failed to respond while on autopilot.

Both of these accidents require failure analysis. What seems new to us as a society, is that these crashes involved a failure of software, rather than brakes, tires, steering columns, or seat belt failures (failures that have become common and often result in a recall to fix a feature).

The technology and collection methods may change. However, the theories of liability and the investigation remain pretty constant. We have two automobile crashes resulting in death. They require a thorough accident reconstruction investigation to determine the cause of the accidents. Once determined, matters of negligence, product liability, and fault still apply.

 

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionCranesEngineeringExpert WitnessForensic Accident Investigation

Let the Finger Pointing Begin: Who is Responsible for the FIU Bridge Collapse?

[DISCLAIMER: In this post, we are going to name probable defendants based on available information. We are not determining liability or placing blame.]

One attribute of legal education is viewing an event and knowing, without a doubt, litigation will ensue; it is a blessing and a curse! I had this experience yesterday as I watched the horrific news unfold about the Florida International University bridge collapse. Issue spotting and parties were being identified within minutes after I received notice a bridge had failed in Florida.

For many catastrophic injury and wrongful death attorneys, this is a dream case. This sounds bad, I know, but hear me out. The result of this disaster is appalling and fault is abundant. None of that fault can be attributed to the victims. They were going about their day – sitting in their cars, stopped at a red light, probably admiring the new bridge – when the bridge collapsed on top of their vehicles. The victims did nothing wrong. They have no-fault (contributory, comparative, or otherwise) and, for certain, someone else is to blame.

The list of defendants will be ample. I’ve listed some of the probable defendants below. Don’t worry, these companies and institutions will be doing their own finger pointing. Whether we see it reported in the news or not, the blame game has already begun. To limit their liability, these defendants will point to others as responsible for this catastrophe, and the others will point back and point to others.

What we know:

In the City of Sweetwater, Florida, a pedestrian overpass at Florida International University (FIU) collapsed onto a notoriously busy road below. The Miami-Dade fire department confirmed six people are dead as a result. According to this article from Yahoo News, “at least eight vehicles were trapped in the wreckage of the 950-ton bridge.” Evidently, the bridge was constructed on the side of the road and was installed last Saturday.

“To keep the inevitable disruption of traffic associated with bridge construction to a minimum, the 174-foot portion of the bridge was built adjacent to Southwest 8th Street using a method called Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC). It was driven into its perpendicular position across the road by a rig in only six hours on Saturday, according to a statement released by the university.

The $14.2 million bridge was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, the most dangerous measure by the National Hurricane Center, and built to last 100 years, the university said.”

We can safely say the bridge did not live up to the purpose of its design. It didn’t have an opportunity to be hurricane tested because it was unable to remain standing for a whole week.

Possible Defendants: Anyone Involved in the Design, Construction, Inspection, and Erection of the Bridge

Where do I start? There are so many possibilities. Here is the list I’ve developed so far:

  • Munilla Construction Management (built and installed the bridge)
  • FIGG Engineering Group (bridge design, engineering and construction services)
  • Barnhart Crane and Rigging (moved the bridge into place)
  • BDI (structural testing and monitoring services)
  • City of Sweetwater
  • Miami-Dade County
  • Florida International University
  • Florida Department of Transportation
  • Materials Manufacturers (concrete, steel, etc.)

There will probably be other subcontractors and unknown parties who will be added to this list. The city, county, and state probably conducted inspections at different times during the design and construction of the bridge, so failures may be attributed to the municipalities as well.

Where Experts Come In:

What we have in this case is a bridge collapse. Failure analysis is the technical phrase used to determine why the bridge collapsed. The NTSB is sending their own investigative team to determine the cause for the failure. In litigation, both Plaintiff and Defense will retain a variety of experts to conduct their own analysis. Experts for all parties will have many questions to address. Here are some of the issues that come to mind immediately…

Were there defects in the construction of the bridge? If construction defects are identified, they may indicate a breach in the standard of care used by Munilla Construction Management during building of the overpass.

What about the design of the walkway? Did FIGG Engineering follow appropriate standards in designing the structure? Design and structural engineers will have to evaluate errors in the specifications which may have left the platform in a weakened and unsafe state.  This will also play a role for BDI who monitored the installation and later posted this picture, on Twitter:

 

bridge-collapse.PNG

 

Was the platform moved and installed according to crane and rigging policies and standards? Had there been a failure to secure the pieces of the bridge when moving it into place? Had the installation process added stress to components unnecessarily? This will all have to be analyzed to see if Barnhart Crane and Rigging had breached their standards of care during installation. Again, this will play a role for BDI, as they believed the move was a “job well done.”

By images and videos available in the news, we can see significant concrete slabs on top of the damaged vehicles. It will have to be analyzed and determined if the materials themselves had failed. Was the concrete, steel, or other material defective? Was it built to specifications? If not, what is the acceptable industry-standard deviation? If so, a product liability lawsuit against the materials manufacturers may also be appropriate.

All of these items will come back to the municipalities involved. Why did they retain the above-named companies? Was there a history of safety concerns with any of the firms? Were they overlooked? Did the municipalities fail to properly inspect the construction efforts? The Miami Herald covers some items about Munilla Construction Management and FIGG Engineering (and their respective work histories) in this article.

Traffic and pedestrian safety standards also come to mind as issues that may be addressed in upcoming litigation. Was there an alternative traffic route that could have been used until construction was completed? Were traffic safety procedures followed for the installation of an overpass?

There are many questions to be answered. For the victims, those answers will not ease the pain of losing loved ones. But the one guarantee we have is that one or more parties are responsible and those parties will be busy pointing the finger at each other and at others.

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionAccident SafetyIndustrial Accident

Car Accident Experts: Quentin Tarantino Questions How the Uma Thurman Accident Happened

Over the weekend we heard from another victim of Harvey Weinstein. This time, actress Uma Thurman discussed her assault at the hands of Hollywood’s most well-known predator in a piece for the New York Times. In this opinion piece by Maureen Dowd, Uma Thurman recounts a physical attack by Weinstein that occurred when she was a young actress (an attack Weinstein denies).

Also discussed in the article was a car accident on the set of Kill Bill. An accident Thurman believes resulted in long-term neck and knee damage. The interesting aspect of this car accident is that it was recorded by a camera mounted on the Karmann Ghia driven by Thurman (video available in the Times article).

In an article published last night by Deadline, director Quentin Tarantino explains that he provided the 15-year-old footage to Ms. Thurman in the hopes that “if I get this footage to her and she puts it out there in the world, that a crash expert can look at it and determine exactly what happened on that road.”

In the article on Deadline, Tarantino provides us with some more information about contributing factors in the crash. Here are some of the items that an accident reconstructionist would have to take into account when viewing the video.

  • Uma Thurman was driving the automobile somewhere between 35 and 45 MPH
  • There was an S-curve in the road that appears to be a fork in the road
  • The road had more sand and less dirt than Tarantino anticipated
  • Tarantino drove the road in one direction to test safety
  • Thurman drove the road in the opposite direction with no prior test in that direction
  • There was a mounted camera on the back of the automobile making the back-end heavier
  • Tarantino says the automobile was hydroplaning on the sand
  • The car goes into a spin in the sand and slides into the tree

Unfortunately for Thurman, she believes that the automobile may not be around for inspection by an auto accident expert. In the Deadline article, Tarantino explains his conversation with Thurman after the Times article was released last weekend and recounts their conversation as follows: “After the car incident. She feels it’s very possible the car was destroyed, at Harvey Weinstein’s insistence, and at Bennett Walsh and Lawrence Bender’s execution.” Putting aside the conspiratorial ideas and potential destruction of evidence, the remaining information to be analyzed is the video and witness statements.

What else can we determine from the video?

What else might help to determine the cause of the accident? In the video we actually get to see the impact to Ms. Thurman’s body at the time the automobile hits the tree. The movement and impact on the body could help explain the cause of the accident.

Not only will a “crash expert” be needed to analyze the video and witness statements as suggested by Tarantino, but it is likely a biomechanics expert would be required to help determine the injury to Thurman’s body. The combination of expertise from an accident reconstructionist and biomechanics expert will provide Ms. Thurman with a full accounting of the cause of this crash and resulting injury.

By her own account in the Times article, Ms. Thurman describes, “The steering wheel was at my belly and my legs were jammed under me… I came back from the hospital in a neck brace with my knees damaged and a large massive egg on my head and a concussion.” In the video you can see the relatively tall Thurman’s legs shoved under the steering wheel of the Karmann Ghia. There is also a protrusion (which appears to be her Kill Bill sword) at about shoulder level (while sitting). This protrusion impacts with the right side of her head when the front left side of the car collides with the tree. One can only imagine this item (which probably should have been secured or removed) was responsible for the concussion.

There are a host of other issues present in an accident like this. Certainly matters of workplace safety come to mind. However, Mr. Tarantino only seemed interested in determining the cause of the accident. In which case, we recommend the involvement of an automobile accident reconstructionist and a biomechanics expert as described above.

I invite any of our Experts.com members to review the video and write an article analyzing the accident!

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionExpert WitnessForensic Accident InvestigationPublic TransportationTransportation

ADA Compliance: Bus & Motorcoach Liability

A recent article by Member, Ned Einstein, President of Transportation Alternatives, a passenger transportation and automotive consortium engaged in consulting and forensic accident investigation, touches upon the safety and liability of buses and motorcoaches transporting passengers in wheelchairs. Mr. Einstein effectively communicates the legalities involved with wheelchair securement and ADA compliance. Click the link to read the full article:

Ned Einsten“Buses and Motorcoaches: Safety v. Liability” 

Ned Einstein has been qualified as an Expert Witness in accident analysis, testimony, and mediation in vehicle and pedestrian accidents involving transit, paratransit, schoolbus, motorcoach, special education, non-emergency medical transport, taxi, shuttle, and child / elderly transport systems and services.

View Ned Einstein’s Profiles on Experts.com.

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionChemicalEngineeringMaterials

Materials Engineering Expert Witnesses & Consultants

In the last century, advances in Materials Science have elevated almost every aspect of our lives. Consider some of the new and functional materials that make living so much safer and easier: chemicals, polymers, ceramics and alloys for use in medicine and medical implants, carbon fiber reinforced plastics for varied uses including to make stronger, lighter sports equipment, and metals and coatings for sturdier and safer construction. New Material Analysis and Engineering are responsible for novel technologies in many different fields encompassing civil, chemical, construction, nuclear, aeronautical, agricultural, mechanical, biomedical and electrical engineering. 

Materials Engineering Expert Witnesses and Consultants may be called upon for several purposes.  Their expertise includes Accident Reconstruction, Failure Analyses, Product Design, Product Development, Product Delivery, and Material Handling System to name a few.

Read Articles by Experts.com Materials Engineering Experts:

A Lawyer’s Guide to Hiring a Forensic Industrial Engineer
By: Gerald J. Hietpas, PR
Causey Engineering, LLC

Memos Of Invention – Attorneys and Corporate Inventors
By: Dr. Edward Funk, Ph.D.
EWF Consulting

Analysis Of An Impact Fractured, Welded Steeting Arm Spindle Assembly
By: Metallurgical Technologies, Inc.

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionBiomechanicsEngineeringExpert Witness

Biomechanics Expert Witnesses & Consultants

Biomechanics are defined as the scientific study of biological and especially muscular activity – as in locomotion or exercise.  Though this field of expertise is relatively new as it pertains to litigation, it is understandable why so many attorneys are turning to biomechanical engineers to support their cases. In Smelser v. Norfolk Southern Railway
Company, 105 F.3d 299, 305 (6th Cir. 1997),  it was noted that, “Biomechanics apply the principles in mechanics to the facts of a specific accident and provide information about the forces generated in the accident, explain how the body moves in response to those forces, and thus determine what type of injuries would result from the forces generated.”

Biomechanic experts are trained in Engineering as well as Human Anatomy.  This makes them particularly useful for determining causation  in personal injury and products liability cases.  For instance, in an article entitled, Experts in Mechanisms of Injury, Biomechanics Expert, Dr. Dennis Andrews, BSOSH, MSOSH, PhD, explains that seatbelt injuries must be described to the jury in two ways: (1) the mechanisms and forces causing the injury and (2) the injuries themselves (cuts, lacerations, bruises) in detail and their locations identified.

Considering the wealth of knowledge Biomechanics Experts can bring to an injury case, it is no wonder why the demand for their services has grown so drastically over the last decade.

See Biomechanical Engineering Expert Witnesses and Consultants on Experts.com.