Category: Engineering

ElectronicsEngineeringExpert Witness

eScooters Recalled Due to Battery Fire Risk: Expert Witness Analysis

In the last week, we learned of a recall involving eScooters. This recall came from Lime, an eScooter and eBike manufacturer. However, this is not the first concern about the safety of eScooters and Lime is not the only manufacturer facing consumer safety concerns.

In big cities throughout the world, transportation is being rapidly impacted by more advanced options than those we typically think about: cars, bikes, and public transportation.

Technologies’ rapid advancement combined with the nightmare of slow-moving automobiles and fighting for parking spaces has made Segways and other eScooters an efficient, environmentally friendly, and fun alternative to normal modes of transportation.

San Francisco is 90 miles from our office. On a good day it takes about 2 hours to make it to the city. Upon arriving, I typically want to find a parking place and avoid getting in the car for the remainder of my time in the city. From my interactions, I am not alone in this feeling. In fact, eScooters are a nice alternative to walking around the city and one I plan on trying in the not too distant future. It will allow me to go greater distances in the city, while being fun (because scooters are fun), and I won’t have to fight the traffic in San Francisco.

As with all consumer products and consumer electronics, especially those new to the market, we start to hear stories about the injuries caused and the safety concerns about the new products. eScooter solutions do not appear to be free from these concerns.

Powered by electronics and lithium-ion batteries, we have learned of the potential for fires related to these scooters. You may recall the “hoverboard” fires from a year or two ago. The hoverboards (self-balancing scooters) were a “hot” purchase at Christmastime and then they experienced recalls as a result of battery failures and battery fires.

Again, these recalls are pretty common for consumer products and from my perspective, companies seem to have drastically improved their response to safety issues and rapidly deploy recalls. I seem to see a recall announcement weekly. It is wise to recall a product and prove your company is proactive regarding customer safety. The alternative today, is suffering the Internet-based attacks for failure to do so. Those attacks are likely to be followed by product liability litigation if your customers are injured.

Lime eScooter Recall:

Last week, I read that Lime had recalled some of their scooters from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Lake Tahoe. TechCrunch, among other news outlets, covered the story. The pertinent part of the story is below, some of which was pulled directly from Lime’s blog:

“‘In several isolated instances, a manufacturing defect could result in the battery smoldering or, in some cases, catching fire,’ Lime wrote on its blog. ‘We took this issue very seriously. Immediately upon learning of the defect, we worked with Segway Ninebot to create a software program to detect the potentially affected batteries. We then worked independently to create an even more thorough software program to ensure that no potentially faulty scooters remained in circulation. When an affected battery was identified — with a red code — we promptly deactivated the scooter so that no members of the public could ride or charge it.’

Lime says it then removed those scooters from circulation and ‘at no time were riders or members of the public put at risk.’ But fast-forward to more ‘recently,’ and Lime has received another report that one of its Segway Ninebot scooters may be vulnerable to battery failure. In total, Lime says less than 0.01 percent of its scooter fleet is affected.”

Given the issues with the hoverboards and now eScooters, I wanted to get a better understanding of the issues impacting electronic scooters and the batteries, as the thread that seems to hold all these stories together, is the lithium-ion batteries.

As such, I reached out to one of our experts for his insights on the matter.

Mechanical Engineering, Medical Device and Consumer Product Expert Witness Dr. T. Kim Parnell:

T. Kim Parnell, PhD, PE, is a Professional Mechanical Engineering consultant with strong experience in a number of technology areas. He holds PhD and MSME degrees from Stanford University in Mechanical Engineering and a BES from Georgia Tech. He specializes in the mechanical engineering design and behavior of Biomedical Devices, Superelastic and Shape Memory Metals (Nitinol), Bioabsorbable Polymers, Composites, Fiber-Reinforced Materials, Electronics, and Consumer Products. Dr. Parnell consults actively in these areas using finite element analysis and other advanced technologies to improve designs, to perform failure analysis, and to improve reliability. To learn more about Dr. Parnell, please visit his website: http://parnell-eng.com/.

Nick: In consumer electronics-based batteries, are their common battery defects that may result in smoldering or the battery catching fire?

Dr. Parnell: Yes, there are several failure modes that can ultimately lead to smoke or fire.

External damage is one mechanism that can lead to failure and smoke or fire. By breaching the external battery package, the reactive internal contents will be exposed to air and moisture.

The failure modes generally involve heat and overheating of the battery in some way.

Some of the heating mechanisms are:

  • External Short Circuit
  • Internal Short Circuit
  • Overcharge
  • Overdischarge
  • External Heating
  • Overheating (self-heating)

Each of these heating mechanisms may ultimately result in battery temperature becoming too high.

The elevated temperature leads to gas generation and additional generation of heat internal to the battery.

If this heat generation exceeds the ability to dissipate the heat, a thermal runaway may occur.

If a thermal runaway occurs, then it may be followed by

  • venting,
  • rupture of the battery container, and then potential
  • fire and explosion.

Nick: The article from TechCrunch explains one battery failed and another caught fire. Does a battery have to catch fire to fail?

Dr. Parnell: No.  Fire is basically an end failure mode.

Nick: Not just in the instance of these scooters, but more generally, is it possible for a battery to be damaged by the charging process rather than a manufacturing defect?

Dr. Parnell: Yes. The battery may be damaged by the charging process.  In particular if the battery is overcharged and if the charge rate remains high after the battery reaches full charge.

Nick: In the article, it seems Lime is able to monitor batteries and detect faulty batteries via software. Can you tell us, in general, how batteries are remotely monitored by consumer electronic companies?

Dr. Parnell: Battery internal temperature is one key parameter that can identify problems.  A temperature sensor from each battery cell can provide data that can be remotely monitored and also can be used locally to isolate a cell.

Nick: Can a battery truly be fixed with a software patch? Or, should the defective battery be removed from operation altogether?

Dr. Parnell: A mechanical battery problem cannot be “fixed” with a software patch.  A problem battery cell in a battery pack may be identified and electrically isolated.

That is what I’ve got for you this week. Although, it has been brought to my attention (thanks to Kevin Gillespie of TextALawyer), that another blog post about the safety issues in and around eScooter use may be necessary. Stay tuned, as there may be a Part 2.

 

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionEngineeringEvidence

Clemson University Floor Collapse and the Eventual Expert Witnesses

What kinds of expert witnesses can we expect to participate in future litigation related to the floor collapse at The Woodlands of Clemson apartment complex?

Early Sunday morning, at a fraternity party in Clemson, SC, a dance floor at an apartment clubhouse became the scene of a serious accident combined with multiple personal injuries. Luckily for all involved, the injuries were not life-threatening.

There were several videos of the accident. One came from Twitter user @PJG116 and another video post in a response by Twitter user @StevieW21 (still shot above also from the video), which provides us some interesting evidence to analyze in order to anticipate the potential legal issues which may necessitate expert witness opinions in future litigation. Here is the video from @PJG116

The video, according to Twitter, has been viewed more than 8 million times at the time of this writing. As an aside, the video seems to have been recorded using Snapchat and then uploaded to Twitter. It is an excellent piece of recorded evidence for our purposes.

The video provides us with a significant number of issues to consider, so I have limited my analysis. To my lawyer-friends, I’m certain you will identify issues I have missed. Please feel free to discuss those in the comments.

Premises Liability:

As this took place at an apartment complex, we are instantly interested in topics of premises liability (i.e. liability to the landowner/manager when an injury occurs on their property). In this case, we would need to determine if there was any negligence on behalf of the apartment complex.

It would be important to look at the use of this clubhouse in the past. Was it often used for college parties? Was it foreseeable a fraternity would have a dance party? Was it foreseeable a dance party would include jumping up and down? Certainly, I think the answer to all of these is yes, all were foreseeable.

There are defenses to premises liability. Common defenses include assumption of the risk, contributory negligence, and comparative negligence. Was the apartment complex informed about the number of party-goers? Did the event planner (who was likely a tenant) provide the appropriate information about the size of the party? Did the party exceed the occupancy capacity of the clubhouse? There may be negligence on behalf of the event planner (i.e. fraternity) which may have contributed to the accident. Certainly, the apartment complex will be arguing they were not at fault.

When premises liability causes of action are involved, it is not uncommon to involve a premises liability expert witness to opine on whether one or more parties met their standard of care. In this case, I anticipate it’ll be an expert with apartment property management experience.

Does the school or fraternity have any liability?

Early news reports indicated this was an off-campus event promoted by a fraternity. However, since those early reports, we have discovered the school was reviewing security camera footage. So there are some questions about whether the school is responsible for the apartment complex. Otherwise, I’m not certain how they got access to review the security footage.

Additionally, the fraternity may have rented the clubhouse for the event? Or, a fraternity member who lived at the apartment complex may have had access as a result of being a tenant. Fraternities generally have to hold liability insurance. It may turn into a dispute between the school and the fraternity as to who is responsible for the accident. Did the fraternity sign a release of liability to use the space? Did they misrepresent the intended use? Any misrepresentation may help relieve the apartment complex or school from their potential negligence.

Structural Integrity, Failure Analysis & Construction Materials:

One of the evidentiary matters likely to arise in a premises liability action is the durability, construction and intended use of the damaged part of the clubhouse.

In this Associated Press brief we are told “Clemson planning and code director Todd Steadman said there was an occupancy limit of 135 people for the upstairs portion of the clubhouse that collapsed. He says the school is reviewing security video to determine how many people were on the floor when it failed.”

There are a couple of interesting aspects to the above quote. We immediately know people are looking into the building codes and occupancy issues. If the upper portion of the clubhouse met the codes, that is helpful to the apartment complex that they met their standard of care for a safely constructed building.

In a future litigation over personal injuries stemming from this accident, I see structural engineers being brought in to analyze the construction, applicable building code sections, and cause of the failure. Knowing what caused the floor collapse and how it may have prevented will play a role in assigning liability.

Now, I’m not a structural engineer, but one thing I do know, is that vibrations can impact the stability of a platform. If you have 40 or 50 people jumping in unison, the combined impact and vibration are going to have a more significant impact than 135 people walking around.

Also, there will need to be some inspections of the collapsed material. Was there rot in the wood? Was there a termite infestation? Were there any other issues with the building materials? Did the apartment complex know, or should they have known, about any substandard materials used to construct the floor?

If the complex finds there is something off about the construction of the floor or if the materials used didn’t meet code standards, they may be able to bring the builder in as a co-defendant.

So there you have it. I see the following as potential experts in future litigation:

  • Premises liability / property management expert
  • Structural engineering or failure analysis expert
  • Construction, building codes, and construction materials expert

I know, this sounds like a lot of experts. There may be one expert capable of analyzing several of the issues outlined above.

As usual, this is a brief analysis. Premises liability being the glaring cause of action in this case. For those lawyers who will inevitably read and decide I missed an important issue… I agree. This was not intended to be a full and complete analysis of causes of action. Please comment below!

 

 

EngineeringExpert WitnessWeather

Hurricane Floodwater & Wastewater: Sanitary Engineer Expert Witness Analysis

Five days after Hurricane Florence made landfall and pounded parts of the East Coast with winds and torrential rains, many areas are still inundated with flood water.

The floods have been devastating. Not only are the waters causing extreme property damage and personal injuries (in some instances death), they are also carrying contaminants and pollutants which have severe public health concerns.

Yesterday I read about some of the pollutants entering the floodwaters. Some of the items include: dead animals (turkeys, pigs, chickens), chemicals, manure, and untreated raw sewage. In fact, Bloomberg reported farm lagoons (storing feces and urine) had given way and sewer treatment plants have been overwhelmed by the rains.

Specifically, there are a variety of issues caused by these contaminants being washed away and transported via floodwaters. Bloomberg points out some of these concerns:

“Hog waste contains E. coli and bacteria, Rumpler said. Sewage overflows, combined with high floodwaters, bring the prospect of ecological impacts including fish kills. Humans coming into contact with fecal matter risk viruses, parasitic infections and rashes.”

So, there are some things our citizen brothers and sisters should avoid in North Carolina. Try to avoid swimming and wading through floodwaters. Remember the water is NOT just rain water. It is NOT clean. Those floodwaters include wastewater. Citizens should probably continue drinking bottled water until local authorities tell them otherwise.

That is enough of my non-expert suggestions. I’ve reached out to a sanitary engineering expert witness for some insights.

Sanitary Engineering Expert Witness Bonneau Dickson

Bonneau Dickson, PE, is a Sanitary Engineer with over 35 years of experience in all aspects of studying, designing, and constructing water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities, both in the United States and abroad. Mr. Dickson has designed approximately 300 water, wastewater, and stormwater projects. Has been resident engineer or otherwise participated in the construction phase of approximately 20 water and wastewater projects. Mr. Dickson has both project management and general management experience as project manager on approximately 175 projects.  You can learn more about his practice here: bonneaudickson.com.

Nick: With the post-Hurricane Florence flooding, we are reading about heavily polluted waters (pig excrement and raw sewage). What can North Carolina authorities do to address these sewage overflows and treat the wastewater?

Mr. Dickson: Very little. The pollution has escaped and there are few or no practical means of recapturing it.

The good news is that the torrential rains are likely to flush most of the pollution out to sea where it will decompose and be diluted down to insignificant concentrations.

Nick: At least one municipal sewer authority experienced catastrophic failure. Is there anything that can be done to limit or prevent such catastrophic failures when faced with heavy rains and severe flooding?

Mr. Dickson: Proper design of wastewater treatment facilities includes protection against flooding up to some level. Often, the protection includes levees and stormwater pumping facilities to prevent the wastewater treatment facilities from flooding.

The design storm often is a 100-year storm. I have not seen an analysis of the return period for a storm like Hurricane Florence but it could be on the order of a 500-year storm or a 1,000-year storm. Some areas were reported to have received up to 40-inches of rain in a few days. Typical annual rainfall in the Carolina’s is approximately 40-inches.

Nick: What are the major public health risks associated with untreated wastewater flooding parts of North Carolina?

Mr. Dickson: Probably diarrheal diseases from drinking or coming in contact with polluted water.

Nick: What can individuals and authorities do to limit public health risks associated with wastewater?

Mr. Dickson: Get the potable water systems operating again so people have clean water to drink and bathe in.


 

Until the floodwaters recede, please be safe. Listen to local authorities and remember to help your neighbors!

 

 

AutomotiveEngineeringExpert Witness

Tesla Whistleblower Alleges Inflated Production, Safety Hazards

Former Tesla employee Martin Tripp has blown the whistle accusing the company of what may be securities fraud peppered with dangerous safety concerns.

This is an update on our last post: Tesla Trade Secrets Lawsuit: Investigators & Expert Witnesses.

It seems this story is just heating up. Once again, Cyrus Farivar from Ars Technica, is doing some excellent reporting on this story and I only hope to follow in his footsteps with my own expert witness-based input.

Last Friday, former Tesla employee Martin Tripp, submitted a whistleblower tip to the SEC. According to Mr. Farivar’s reporting, Tripp did so using a “TCR” (tip, complaint, or referral form). Mr. Tripp is now represented by a lawyer specialized in whistleblower cases. Interestingly enough, he still is not represented by counsel in the Tesla trade secrets lawsuit filed against him and his lawyer on the whistleblower claim does not represent him in that suit.

CNN Money has some details of what is alleged in the claim to the SEC. Tripp alleges that Tesla regularly inflates productions numbers on the Model 3, meaning fewer than the supposed 5,000 vehicles a week are actually being produced. He further contends car batteries are defective because they contain dangerous punctures and Tesla had decreased vehicle safety specifications, all of which increases the likelihood of battery explosions and safety hazards.

If any of the above allegations are true, we are entering into the arena where the following expert witnesses may be needed in a whistle-blower litigation by the SEC.

Securities Fraud:

If Tesla is actually inflating number of vehicles produced and claiming they are meeting their production goals, they could be dealing with some securities fraud issues in addition to opening themselves up to a potential shareholder lawsuit. Claiming they’d be building 5,000 Model 3‘s each week, but not doing so, could be seen by the SEC as an attempt to manipulate the stock price and lie to shareholders, to which the directors and officers of the company owe a fiduciary duty. If this is the case, I expect to see reports from experts in director and officer liability and corporate governance.

Automotive Safety & Engineering:

If there are issues of defective or damaged car batteries being installed in the automobiles, the SEC will need experts to investigate, inspect, and report the validity of these claims. I’m going to avoid the classic product liability issues that may stem from these allegations since those would be involved in a different lawsuit.

However, the SEC will have to employ automotive safety and automotive engineering specialists to determine the legitimacy of Mr. Tripp’s claims. Is he making claims maliciously because he’s a disgruntled former employee? Or, are the batteries and the vehicles truly dangerous?

Another expert likely to be needed to test Mr. Tripp’s accusations would be a specialist in battery engineering. The big selling point for Tesla… the cars are sleek and environmentally friendly because they are electric (battery powered). However, Tripp alleges there are dangerous holes in the batteries.

If you’re like me, you know very little about the inner-workings of your automobile. I do know that a hole in a battery is not good, but the SEC can’t have me do a once over and let them know if the “holes” Mr. Tripp saw are truly dangerous. A battery expert will have to inspect a sample of Tesla car batteries to determine any legitimacy to his claims.

That’s the latest in this ongoing drama. I expect, however, we will be seeing more on the trade secrets matter, whistle-blowing matter, and any counter claims that may be filed. Until then…

EnergyEngineeringExpert Witness

Expert Witnesses and North Korea? They Will Be Used to Verify Closure of Nuclear Test Site

Were you as surprised as I was to see the phrase “expert witnesses” in the same sentence as North, Korea? When I got back to the office this morning after a several days in New Orleans at the ABA GPSolo / GLSA Conference, I went through my emails, including my Google Alerts for “expert witness” and “expert witnesses.” One article, in particular, caught my attention. A post from ITV News titled, “North Korea ‘to close nuclear site’ in May in front of international expert witnesses,” got me thinking about what type of experts might be used in to verify the closure of a nuclear site. I understand that this probably means Kim Jong-Un will invite experts to witness the closure and is not likely referring to expert witnesses in the traditional-US-legal-system-sense.

Of course this article interested me because it brought together my employment and my undergraduate studies in Political Science / International Relations. In fact, the Dean of Political Science at my college specialized in the politics of the Korean Peninsula. I had taken several of his courses and respected him immensely, so this story really intrigued me.

Now, I do recall the verification processes that went along with the lead up to the war in Iraq. There were efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. It would not be a surprise to hear that the IAEA were involved in verifying the closure of a North Korean nuclear site. I do not want to get caught up on the particular agency taking part in this inspection. Rather, I am interested in the knowledge and specialization of the experts who may be asked to witness the closure.

According to the story from ITV News, “Kim Jong-un announced he would invite representatives from both South Korea and the US to witness the closure as the two Korean leaders met for a historic summit on Friday.”  What type of experts will be brought to witness the closure? How will we know the nuclear site is closed? Who verifies that it has been closed? What type of expertise is needed to verify the closure? These, and other questions were posed to some of our Nuclear Energy expert witnesses.

Before getting into the nuclear energy experts, I should also say that the above article really has to do with nuclear weapons testing, rather than the production of nuclear material. Our experts are more likely familiar with the production of nuclear material and that is what I have focused on as that will likely be a future step in negotiations.

Input from a Nuclear / Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness:

I reached out to one of our members based in the UK to get some answers on this subject. Geoffrey Beresford Hartwell is a Chartered Engineer who specialized in aerospace and nuclear energy early in his career. You can learn more about his current practice by visiting his website: arbitrator-engineer-gbh.co.uk. For ease of reading, I have distinguished between the questions I asked and the answers provided by Mr. Hartwell.

Nick: What type of experts would be used to confirm the nuclear testing facility is shut down?

Mr. Hartwell: I would suggest nuclear engineers or health physicists equipped with Geiger Counters and supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They should be able to detect remaining radioactive traces by their emission of alpha particles, beta particles or gamma rays.  They must test in apparently empty containers.

Nick: Would someone with your expertise be asked to participate?

Mr. Hartwell: I imagine so but my membership of the Institution of Nuclear Engineers lapsed after some health issues.

Nick: What is the process for closing a nuclear facility?

Mr. Hartwell:

A) Remove all active material to long-term storage approved by IAEA.  In contentious circumstances that should involve processing at a facility in Britain, USA or France.  I do not know if a facility is Russia would be appropriate.

B) Clean to IAEA requirements.  Dismantle plant and equipment.

C) After safety inspection (see Q.1) destroy nuclear specific buildings.  Reactor buildings, if any, may need special attention – insertion of boron absorber; casing in concrete; fencing.

Nick: How long might it take to close a nuclear facility?

Mr. Hartwell: Weeks, possibly months, perhaps many months.

Nick: Can a nuclear facility be reopened with relative ease?

Mr. Hartwell: Yes, if nuclear-specific buildings are left intact.

Nick: To prevent future activity at a nuclear facility, wouldn’t there have to be some action to dismantle a facility?

Mr. Hartwell: Yes.

Nick: What would it take to make sure that a nuclear facility is shut down and remains inactive in the future?

Mr. Hartwell: Demolish Nuclear-specific equipment and buildings – under IAEA supervision.

Nick: What items does the public need to know about closing a nuclear site?

Mr. Hartwell: Report of IAEA; open visits to site.

Nick: Any other comments you’d like to add. Important items that I have not covered in the above questions…

Mr. Hartwell: Disposal of materials is difficult; some remains radioactive for centuries.  Removing some materials – such as, from some reactors, hot liquid sodium which cannot be in contact with moisture – can be dangerous.

Well there you have it. Geopolitical affairs are taking place all around us. We get to wait and see what will happen with not only the nuclear testing site, but other nuclear production sites in North Korea. If another story presents itself in a way that I can write about it, I will.

I’d like to say I’m waiting for comment from Kim Jong-Un for this article, but his people are not returning my phone calls. I think they blocked my number.

 

 

 

 

EngineeringExpert WitnessInsurancelegaltech

Robot Rights and Liability: Do they need legal rights? Here’s what one expert witness has to say…

Have you been following the advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics? There are some really fascinating developments in the fields. Just this week I’ve read about artificially intelligent systems used to identify people likely to commit a crime (before it happens); robotics systems being used in construction; unmanned aerial vehicles; self-driving cars; and, of course, it seems a week cannot go by without a new headline about sex robots.

Last Friday, I found some news stories that were really interesting. It appears a 2017 report from the European Commission had “a paragraph of text buried deep in a European Parliament report, that advised creating a ‘legal status for robots,'” according to this article from The Daily Mail.

I found this quite fascinating and had to dig deeper. Why would we need to develop a legal status for robots? What would be the point? An article in Futurism stated, “If a robot, acting autonomously injures or otherwise wrongs a human, who will be held responsible? Some European lawmakers think that the best way to resolve this question will be to give robots ‘electronic personalities,’ a form of legal person-hood.”

To me, there is a simple answer to this topic. The owner and/or the manufacturer would be held liable. Why would society need something beyond existing negligence, product liability, and consumer protection laws?

According to the report, the European Commission does not want to give robots legal status equal to humans. Rather, they want to give them a status similar to corporations. The concern doesn’t seem to apply to your automation-style robots, but rather those capable of self-learning.

I contend we do not need new theories of liability to address this issue. It should be handled just like owning an automobile. As the owner of a car, I must have it insured. Insurance covers personal injury and property damage caused by the vehicle if I am driving it or if another driver is covered by my policy. If the vehicle malfunctions and causes damage due to a manufacturing, design, or warning defect, then I sue the manufacturer (or another injured party may sue the manufacturer). As such, owner and manufacturer are the responsible parties. My automobile doesn’t require its own legal status.

A robot, sentient or not, does not require its own legal status. It can be insured just like an automobile and the owner should be responsible for insuring the equipment. Furthermore, if it malfunctions and causes harm, the manufacturer can be held liable for any product defects.

I have asked for some input on this topic from a couple of our Experts.com members. At the time of this writing we have received a response from one expert. Dr. Harry Direen, PhD, PE, has a wide variety of expertise including electronic systems, control systems, robotics, software, signal processing, UAV’s/drones, and more. I encourage you to check out his company DireenTech.

Several questions were posited to Dr. Direen. Please see the questions and answers below.

What the expert has to say:

Me: Do you see any need for creating a legal status for robots?

Dr. Direen: No… robots are not humans, they are machines.  Despite the hype, I do not believe robot technology is anywhere near thinking on their own or being responsible for their actions.

Me: Are there any positive reasons to create a legal status for robots?

Dr. Direen: No, not that I know of.

Me: Are there any negatives you can think of in creating a legal status?

Dr. Direen: Yes, as a society we start legally blurring the lines between humans and the machines we create.  I don’t believe we elevate humans in the process, but just the opposite.  We advance the myth that humans are little more than carbon based machines with no more value than the machines we create rather than highly valued creations of our Creator.

Me: Is there any reason damage caused by robots cannot be addressed by existing legal principles such as product liability (manufacturing, design, or warning defects)?

Dr. Direen: No. Giving robots legal status would simply be an excuse to divorce engineers, designers, and manufactures from the responsibility of their products.

Me: If a robot were to fail and cause personal or property damage, would a forensic investigation apply the same principles as any other failure analysis investigation?

Dr. Direen: Yes, a robot is just a piece of technology like any other.

So there you have it. Dr. Direen and I seem to be in agreement. Existing legal and investigatory principles should apply to robots. There is no need to provide additional legal protections to machinery.

What do you think? Feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts. It is a fascinating topic. Robotics is a field where I anticipate a great deal of future litigation. As the topic evolves, I’m certain we’ll be discussing it in greater depth.

 

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.

EngineeringExpert WitnessInsuranceUncategorized

California Wildfires: Personal Analysis of Expert Information

Approximately two months after the horrific fires in Northern California (Santa Rosa, Napa, etc.,) we are witnessing catastrophic wildfires tearing through the Southern California landscape. Unlike the fires in October, I have not noticed any smoke or ash in the air this week. However, I am keeping a close eye on the fire activity in the Los Angeles area and have maintained communication with friends who are being impacted by the devastation.

Watching the news and reading the articles on this matter led me to read some articles, by fire experts, on our website. I wanted to pull together some information that might prove useful for those suffering immense loss and even displacement. Here is what I learned from Experts.com members:

Collect the Evidence – Document, Document, Document:

Once the fires are extinguished, you are going to be dealing with your insurance company. Your home, office, vehicles, and other property do not need to be engulfed in flames to suffer damage. Being in the region of a fire can cause costly soot damage to both real and personal property.

For example, let’s assume your home suffered some soot damage as a result of wildfires in your region. When your insurance adjuster comes to review the damage to your property, they are going to want to know if it was a common source of residential soot or the result of regional wildfires. Here are some common causes of residential soot as described in an article by Member EFI Global.

  • Smoking
  • Candles
  • Fire Places
  • Cooking
  • Heater malfunctions
  • Wildfires nearby
  • Interior fires (cooking, appliance etc.)

The article goes on to state, “localized soot over stoves, fire places, heater vents, and used candles is explainable to those sources and is generally not a covered loss.” This is why I believe it is important to document!

If you are noticing soot damage to your home as a result of the wildfires, you should begin taking your own photos and video to properly document areas of damage you have found since the fires began. You do not want your insurance adjuster to arrive, do their own investigation, note the areas above, and claim these are the result of the soot damage in your home. Make sure you have your own documentation of these areas and other areas damaged by soot.

The documentation should take place inside and outside the home. I have seen several pictures of fire retardant found on neighborhood streets, vehicles, and homes. If the fire retardant hit your property, make sure to document the exterior of the home for fire, smoke, and other damage related to extinguishing the fire.

If you can locate pictures from before the fire. Do it! Get some before and after photos assembled to help present the damage you see to your home.

Review Policy & Contact Insurance Provider:

Granted, most articles online will probably tell you to do this first. I am assuming you’re doing this at about the same time you are collecting your own evidence to provide to the adjuster.

Upon reporting the damage to your insurance company, you should inquire as to who may be able to assist with fire restoration in your region. Remember, if flames actually reached your home and water was used to extinguish the flames, you have to be cognizant of the potential for mold. This is why you want to find someone competent with fire restoration protocols. Your insurance should be able to guide you to finding the right provider.

Separate the Good from the Bad:

It is possible portions of your home remain undamaged. If this is the case, you’ll want to separate items that are damaged from those that are undamaged.

By separating the items you prevent further harm to the undamaged portions of your home. The separate section of damaged property will actually serve as your inventory for your insurance provider. It will help you to establish what was lost and what should be covered.

Take Care of Each Other:

Do not forget, fires are life altering events. We have experienced some catastrophic wildfires in California this year. The losses are felt throughout many neighborhoods. In preparing for this post, I found this article from the Napa Valley Register. It shares the story of a man who has lost a house in Santa Rosa, only to find out that his original home (turned rental) was destroyed in the Ventura fire this week.

If you can, reach out and help your neighbor. Help someone in your community. If you are insulated from the wildfires, maybe just write a blog post providing some information for those you know who have been impacted by the devastation.

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.