Legal Concepts for Engineers Wentworth Institute of Technology ELEC 163 Electronic Design I Prof. Tim Johnson Chapter 4 Section 7 “Fundamentals of Engineering Design” By Barry Hyman
Accidents Happen • Students should read pages 162 to 165 in the text regarding the Hyatt walkway accident. • Observe carefully the diagrams of Fig. 4-11. • Before the modification: • The nut in view A supported just the weight of one walkway. • The rod supported all the weight. • After the modification: • The nut on the lower right seen in view B supported the immediate walkway plus all the weight below.
Accidents are the results… • If the nut had been strengthen to handle the addition load, the accident wouldn’t have happened. • Most accidents are preventable. • The “most preventable” accidents are the result of multiple, small causes. • Overlooked details, lapse of judgment, and lack of familiarity, experience or knowledge are causes of accidents.
…of the action not taken • Trust, assumptions, and confidence are weak substitutes for verification. • “Injured parties” can file for compensation in civil courts. • The defendant can be anyone in the product chain connected with the product. This can include the engineer! Anyone can be held liable for the defect and the court will decide.
Legal Liabilities • Liability is part of civil law. • Civil law decides: • Who is a fault • Who violated an agreement • Who failed to keep a promise • Basis for decision is the evidence or facts. • Civil cases are decided on a “preponderance” of evidence.
Legal Liabilities, con’t. • Winners collect from the losers: • Property • Monetary damages • Rights • Civil law is common law: • Based on tradition (what the normal course of business would obligate the parties to), • And precedent (what a previous court decided in a similar case). • Most common law has no specific statutory language.
Torts • Liability law belongs to that branch of civil law known as torts. • It does not include disputes over contracts and warranties. • “Tort reform” refers to overhauling the liability system. • Most cases are heard at the state level thus creating a different precedence for a different state.
Product Liability • Issues of product liability are claims by a plaintiff concerning the characteristics of a product. • The claims may be the result of the way the product was manufactured, serviced or repaired. • Claims could result from the product manual.
History of Torts • Originally, a plaintiff could claim damages only if the engineer and the manufacturer had an explicit (written) contract with their customers. Known as the “privity doctrine”. • In 1916, when a wheel fell off a car…this was replaced the doctrine of negligence.
Negligence • Basis for negligence: • Design created a concealed danger. • Failed to incorporate appropriate safety devices. • Product was made from inadequate materials. • Failure to warn user of the danger. • There are difference degrees of negligence.
3 Types of Negligence • Simple negligence • Failure to exercise care and caution that an ordinary person normally would do. • Gross negligence • Intentional failure to perform an obvious duty regardless of the consequences to the user. • Criminal negligence • Such flagrant disregard for the safety of the user that it resulted in personal injury or death.
Strict Liability • Since the 1960’s, the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove negligence. • The manufacturer is liable if: • The product was defective and unreasonably dangerous, and • the defect existed at the time the product left the defendant’s control, and • the defect caused the harm, and • the harm is appropriately assignable to the defect.
And the difference is… • Negligence considered the behavior of the defendant. • Strict liability considers the behavior irrelevant. • In strict liability, all that counts is the condition of the product. • If no product is involved, negligence rules.
Defects • Can be the result of a production error or a design error. • A production error occurs when the product is not manufactured as intended. • A design error rests with the engineer. • The professor will talk about a design problem he encountered during his career.
Unreasonable danger • Juries that are asked to consider whether or not a design is safe are told to use a “test of reasonableness”. • They are asked to consider whether or not a reasonable person could expect a product (when operated as the plaintiff did) to fail and cause injury.
Compensation • If the plaintiff wins, a monetary award is made. The plaintiff can ask for a certain amount in the papers filed originally. • The award is made to compensate for the damages suffered (compensatory damages). • Punitive awards are assigned to motivate the defendant to modify their behavior.
Engineering Design for Today • Design to reduce exposure to liability. • Recognize that the product will be used in careless or abusive ways and design accordingly. • Courts have held that carelessness on the part of the user is not grounds for dismissal.
Additional Design Procedures • Records must be kept to prove how well designed a product is. • Engineers keep design journals that are records of their work. • Conduct extensive tests. • Results are recorded in the journal. • Records must be kept of the manufacturing procedures and details. • These too are kept in a journal. • Careful preparation of product manuals. • These are prepared from information in the journal.
In a word…Exposure • Reduce your company’s exposure to liability by doing your best. • Document everything. If you straighten up the stock room, write it down! • If you aren’t happy with a design, neither will the customer. • Oh, if your journals don’t have records of what you did in the soldering iron project… …you’re exposed to a lower grade.