By; Anthony Gair,
In personal injury cases predicated upon the negligent design of a product,(product liability cases), such as almost any type of machine which is to be used by people of varying training and skill it is imperative for the plaintiff’s attorney to understand the basics of machine design. This is crucial in New York where the plaintiff’s culpable conduct is a defense to a strict product liability action so that the percentage of fault for his injury may be, if not eliminated, reduced as much as possible. It is not enough for an attorney to simply ask a product design engineer at deposition how the product works. Such questions alone are pointless and will not result in a deposition which can be used to defeat a motion for summary judgment, or at trial, to impeach the product design engineer. As in any deposition the lawyer must ask himself what the purpose of the deposition is. Is it merely to gather information or is it to cross examine the witness so he will be pinned down at trial? In a product liability case in New York the plaintiff is allowed to serve extensive interrogatories. Hence if well drafted the plaintiff’s attorney will have most of the discovery needed for both deposition and trial. Hence it is submitted that the primary purpose of the deposition of a product design engineer is to cross examine him on the principles of design engineering. Similar to a deposition of a physician in a medical malpractice case where the plaintiff’s lawyer must know the medicine as well, if not better, then the physician the plaintiff’s lawyer must know the principles of design engineering as well as the design engineer. If one is not willing to learn this area there is no reason to undertake a complex product design defect case. The plaintiff’s lawyer must check the college and graduate school curriculum for the field of design engineering and read as many of the texts used in design engineering courses as possible.. If a lawyer is not willing to make this commitment he is better off referring the case to a specialist in product design defect cases. The following is a basic discussion of the principles of machine design.
Machine design is a sub-specialty of mechanical engineering. In designing machines, design engineers must take into consideration that a machine, will be used by people of varying intelligence, education and skill. “Human factors engineering, engineering psychology, and ergonomics are largely overlapping segments of a common area of interest: the analysis and design of the conditions affecting people operating in concert with machines”. 1
Ergonomics, or Human Factors Engineering and Design as it is commonly referred to in the United States, involves the consideration by the design engineer of human factors and characteristics when designing safety features into machines. The cardinal principal is that it is human nature to err, that is, people make mistakes. It is standard and accepted practice that the concept of human error be taken into consideration when designing a machine. A machine, must be designed to reduce, as much as is technologically feasible, without destroying the utility of the machine, foreseeable actions by the operator causing injury or death.
In designing a machine a hazard analysis must be done. From a design engineering standpoint a hazard is a condition that has the potential of causing or contributing to injury.
Danger in the context of safety design engineering theory means a higher probability of the risk of an identified hazard causing injury. Risk is the probability of being injured by an identified hazard.
When a design engineer has identified a foreseeable dangerous hazard, there is a safety design priority recognized by all design engineers with reference to preventing injury from the identified hazard which is a follows:
A. Design out the hazard if one can do so without destroying the ability of the machine to function or utility of the machine.
B. If an identified hazard cannot be designed out of the machine without destroying its ability to function or utility the next goal of the design engineer is to guard against it causing injury by incorporating guards or other safety devices.
C. The last alternative is that if one can’t design out the hazard because doing so would destroy the utility of the machine and one can’t guard against it by incorporating guards or safety devices, the last priority is to warn about it. It is the ethical responsibility of the design engineer for the machine to develop a safe functional design which eliminates or greatly reduces the potential for human error on the part of the machine operator causing injury to him self or others.
The following are sample questions that should be asked in a design defect case at the deposition of the design engineer who designed the product;
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In July, 2007 a drunk driver took the life of a 23 year old woman. That woman was the mother of a 4 year old child. That child’s life was forever changed by the reckless and negligent conduct and actions of the drunk driver. Although the child’s life will never be the same – – the family of that young child sought expert representation from highly skilled lawyers to prosecute a civil claim for the wrongful death of the mother and to protect the interests and rights of her little child.
This past week Ben Rubinowitz and Diana Carnemolla successfully resolved this claim after more than 3 years of litigation for one of the highest awards ever for this type of case – – 8 million dollars. The claim stemmed from the reckless and negligent actions of a drunk driver when he drove drunk and collided head-on with a car driven by a 23 year old woman. The mother was killed in the accident but her young child, who was a belted back seat passenger in her car, survived.
The claim was brought under a number of legal theories which included the Wrongful Death of a mother, her Conscious Pain and Suffering for the few minutes that she lived following the impact, the Zone of Danger Damages suffered by both this mother/driver before she died and the Zone of Danger Damages suffered by the young child in witnessing her mother’s death.
“This was a horrible tragedy of unimaginable proportions” said Ben Rubinowitz who also explained that “while no amount of money can ever compensate a young child for the loss of her mother, we know that the law does provide for compensation in this instance, as it should. Our goal was to maximize the recovery for this young child.” Diana Carnemolla, who worked tirelessly in prosecuting this case with Rubinowitz stated, “This is the largest award ever made for this type of claim. Although we are terribly saddened by the loss of a young child’s mother, we are delighted that we were able to secure this large award to provide for this child’s future.”
Both Rubinowitz and Carnemolla are partners of Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman & Mackauf, a firm that specializes in all aspects of Personal Injury Claims including Wrongful Death, Drunk Driving accidents, Car, Bus and Train accidents, construction accidents, Premises accidents, Civil Rights violations, Products Liability cases and Medical Malpractice cases.
A Connecticut family received a record medical malpractice award in a lawsuit, after a jury determined that Daniel D’Attilo’s medical problems were preventable. Daniel needs constant care and cannot speak, eat or walk due to these injuries. Last week, he and his family were awarded $58 million in a medical malpractice case against the obstetrician who delivered him.
According to lawyers, Daniel’s mother’s amniotic fluid dropped by half before going into labour, but her physician, Dr. Richard Viscarello, waited days to perform a Caesarian section. After a month-long trial the Jury decided that the D’Attilos should be paid $58 million compensation for ‘pain and suffering’ and for the Daniel’s past and continuing medical care.
The attorneys at Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman & Mackauf have more than 90 years of experience representing patients who have been injured or have died as the result of medical malpractice involving birth injuries.
In Brannan v Korn, Second Department, May 24, 2011, an action to recover damages for personal injuries, The Court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint based on the emergency doctrine. The plaintiff, while attempting to walk across Ring Road, in Garden City, New York, was struck by a hit and run driver and, as a result of the impact, was propelled onto a second vehicle operated by the defendant Joseph D. Korn. The Court held that while “… the existence of an emergency and the reasonableness of the response to it generally present issues of fact, those issues “may in appropriate circumstances be determined as a matter of law” (Vitale v Levine, 44 AD3d 935)…” The Court went on to hold that the defendants were entitiled to judgment as a matter of law.
“The evidence submitted by the respondents in support of their motion for summary judgment established that Korn was faced with an emergency situation, not of his own making, leaving him with seconds to react and virtually no opportunity to avoid a collision (see Lonergan v Almo, 74 AD3d 902). Under these circumstances, the respondents established their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. In opposition, the plaintiff’s speculative and conclusory assertions failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether Korn’s reaction to the emergency was unreasonable, or whether any negligence on his part proximately contributed to bringing about the emergency or the accident.”
One must wonder if plaintiff submitted a detailed affidavit of an accident reconstruction expert. In any auto accident case in which the emergency defense is applicable the plaintiff’s attorney must retain an experienced accident reconstruction expert, not a “generic” expert who will do a detailed site scene analysis, review all testimony, police reports, etc. and be able to state, not speculate, that to a reasonable degree of professional certainty, the defendant driver had time to react and avoid the accident. The affidavit must explain in minute detail the foundation for the expert’s opinion that the defendant had sufficient time to avoid the accident.
Ben Rubinowitz has been asked to be one of the featured speakers at the New York State Bar Association’s Continuing Legal Education Program “How To Commence A Civil Lawsuit.” Mr. Rubinowitz will be speaking about Depositions. His lecture will focus on appreciating and understanding the New Rules of Depositions; How to effectively prepare a client for a deposition; and How to take an adversarial and Non-Party deposition.
For more than 25 years Ben Rubinowitz has been recognized as an expert in his field in representing severely injured people as a result of car and motor vehicle accidents, premises accidents, civil rights violations, construction accidents and medical malpractice cases. In addition to his work at his firm, Gair Gair Conason Steigman Steigman Mackauf Bloom & Rubinowitz, Ben is a featured writer on Trial Practice in the New York Law Journal. To date, Ben has obtained 19 Verdicts and 83 settlements in excess of one million dollars for his injured clients.
In Blackstock v.Board of Education of the City of New York, decided on May 12, 2011 by The Appellate Division, First Department, a special education speech therapist employed by the defendant Board of Education, claimed that she suffered personal injury as the result of an assault by a student. She alleged defendant failed to properly supervise its students. The Court granted defendant summary judgment holding plaintiff failed to show that defendant owed her a special duty of protection. The Court held as follows;
“Under these circumstances, in order to impose liability, plaintiff had to show that defendant owed her a special duty of protection (see Bonner v City of New York, 73 NY2d 930, 932 ; see also Vitale v City of New York, 60 NY2d 861, 863 ). Plaintiff’s failure to allege or provide the factual predicate for the special relationship theory in her notice of claim or complaint is fatal to maintenance of this action (see Rollins v New York City Bd. of Educ., 68 AD3d 540, 541 ). Moreover, the record shows that plaintiff could not prove all of the necessary elements of that theory (see Cuffy v City of New York, 69 NY2d 255 ). Accordingly, there are no material issues of fact, and summary judgment was properly granted.”
In Churchill v Malek, 2011 NY Slip Op 03673, decided May 3, 2011, The New York Appellate Division, First Department held that a plaintiff in a personal injury action cannot be compelled to disclose confidential psychological or psychiatric records. The Court stated as follows;
“Given that, in this personal injury action, there is no claim to recover damages for emotional or psychological injury (see Valerio v Staten Is. Hosp., 220 AD2d 580 ), or aggravation of a preexisting emotional or mental condition (see Sternberger v Offen, 138 AD2d 480 ), plaintiff cannot be compelled to disclose confidential psychological or psychiatric records (cf. Carr v 583-587 Broadway Assoc., 238 AD2d 184, 185 ). Defendant’s unsubstantiated claim that plaintiff’s mental illness might have caused the accident is insufficient to warrant mental health disclosure (see Zimmer v Cathedral School of St. Mary & St. Paul, 204 AD2d 538, 539 ).”
In Fox v H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P;et.al., 2011 NY Slip Op 03205, decided April 19, 2011, The Appellate Division, Second Department rejected defendant’s claim that plaintiff was enagaed in routine maintenance and thus Section 240(1) was not applicable.
The facts as set forth by The Court were as follows;
“The plaintiff was employed by the fourth-party defendant Garrity Electric, Inc. (hereinafter Garrity), as a mechanic performing general electrical contracting work. Pursuant to an agreement between the defendant third-party plaintiff, H & M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P. (hereinafter H & M), and the third-party defendant/fourth party plaintiff Maintenance, Etc., LLC (hereinafter Maintenance), which provides retail companies with vendors for construction services, Garrity was hired to replace bulbs and ballasts/transformers in 78 overhead light fixtures, located approximately 12 feet above the floor, in a retail store leased by H & M. Garrity had done business with H & M since 2000, performing electrical work for which it was paid the sum of $30,000 to $50,000 per year. Garrity furnished a team of “seven or eight” workers, including the plaintiff, which was led by a team foreman, to perform the subject work in the H & M store. The plaintiff allegedly was injured when he fell from a ladder while engaged in this work. The Supreme Court, inter alia, granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability on the Labor Law § 240(1) cause of action.”
Our partner Ben Rubinowitz successfully resolved a claim against the New York City Transit Authority for $4 million. At the time of the accident, a young woman was crossing a New York City street when she was struck by a bus driven by a N.Y.C.T.A. employee. The defense claimed the accident was her fault asserting that she had not crossed in the crosswalk and that she failed to pay attention to the traffic conditions. The injured victim asserted that the bus driver failed to keep a reasonable and proper lookout failing to pay proper attention and in failing to avoid the pedestrian. As a result of the impact the woman suffered a degloving injury to her knee and pelvic fractures.
Rubinowitz, who recently won a $27.5 million verdict for another client struck by a bus said: “This successful result was part of a team effort. Howard Hershenhorn, Diana Carnemolla and Peter Saghir also worked timelessly for our client.” Rubinowitz continued: “We have the ability to secure the very best results for our clients because of two main reasons: We work harder and put in more effort than any other law firm.”
Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman & Mackauf has had remarkable results for its clients in car accident, construction, premises liability, civil rights and medical malpractice cases. Ten of its lawyers have been listed in Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers.