The Case of the Collapsing Seat: Weak Standards and No Oversight Led to a Fatal Defect

A renown seat safety expert has called on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Veterans Administration to institute random spot checks to ensure that mobility scooter and other powered wheelchair devices intended for the disabled meet minimum voluntary safety standards – and publicize any compliance failures to warn the public. Dr. Kenneth J. Saczalski, who has been at the forefront of seat strength issues for decades, made his call to action today at a meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.

Saczalski was retained by Miami attorney David Bianchi on behalf of the family of Carolyn Sorenson to determine what caused a scooter seat back to break in a products liability case against the U.S. distributors of the Daytona GT3 Electric Scooter. In January 2009, 64-year-old Sorenson died from positional asphyxiation in the trash room of her condominium building, when the plastic molded seat of her mobility scooter fractured and collapsed, causing her to fall backwards. Sorenson’s lower half remained belted in what was left of the seat, while her upper torso was wedged behind her against the door frame, according to police reports.

Will Manufacturers Kill the Used Tires Biz?

Tiremakers have long held the re-sale market at arms length, out of a healthy respect for the boundaries of anti-trust regulations.  But a number of factors are aligning that may shift the market away from the re-sale of used tires for vehicles. The cost of selling used tires is going up – the scrap market is growing in tandem with the demand for used tires to be recycled into fuel to meet the energy requirements of rising economies, such as China’s. At the same time, tire litigation is getting more sophisticated and manufacturers have a keener understanding of their liability.

In 2007, Safety Research & Strategies kick-started this shift by publishing Used Tires: A Booming Business with Hidden Dangers. The report made the link between crashes, tire age and used tires, using data to show that nearly one-third of aged tire crashes investigated involve used tires. It also noted that inspections by used tire wholesalers are cursory and lead to dangerous tires entering the market and recommended used tire sellers adopt higher standards that included visual reviews and internal examinations, such as shearography or X-rays.

Escalator Injuries and Deaths and the Role of Design

There are about 33,000 escalators operating in the U.S. – far fewer than the number of elevators. But injuries occur more frequently on escalators, about 15 times more frequently than elevators. Although entrapment – in which a body part or piece of clothing becomes wedged in the gaps between the moving parts of an escalators – is often a high-profile issue because those incidents typically involve small children, falls on and over escalators account for three-quarters of all escalator injuries. Falls often cause more severe injuries and more fatalities.

There are two distinct groups of fall incidents – those that occur on the escalator and those that result in a passenger falling over the handrail of an escalator. Researchers have attributed the causes of falls on escalators to contact with another passenger, inappropriate footwear, balance and coordination issues in the elderly, among others. Falls over the handrails often have been tied to misuse, such as jumping from one level to another, or attempting to ride by sitting on the handrail, usually in a state of intoxication. But falls over handrails have also occurred as the result of entrapment; a passenger leaning over too far; inadvertently dropping a child who was being carried by an adult on the escalator; or a fall that begins on the escalator, but ends with the victim plunging over the side.

After collecting 305 incidents worldwide, 29 percent of which were fatal, David Cooper, a Great Britain-based escalator and elevator consultant concluded in a trade publication: “This is alarming given that many people within the industry have failed to realize that this is a major problem.”

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