Case Study – 101 –  The Golf Cart Case

Welcome to Forensic Business Pathology® (FBP) with Tom Taormina. This is Case Study #101 in an ongoing series of anecdotal lessons, based on actual cases[1], to help litigators achieve their greatest level of success in products liability and organizational negligence tort.

The Incident

Two avid female golfers were playing a very hilly golf course. They had rented a golf cart from the clubhouse and were enjoying their play. Traversing a very hilly path, the passenger was thrown from the cart and sustained major damage to her spine and hips.

The Forensic Investigation

Detailed investigation of golf carts revealed some disturbing facts. The side handles are very small and recessed so that golfers can slide in and out of the seat. There are no safety belts. There are no handles on the dash or on the canopy structure. While they have a controlled maximum speed, it does not take into consideration steep terrain. What limited safety warnings were provided were underneath the place where the score cards were retained.

The FBP Investigation

The passenger was only five feet tall. There was absolutely nothing she could hold on to as they traversed the hilly course. In deposition, the manufacturer represented that they had to design golf carts for large and tall people to easily slide in and out. They claimed that golfers would not wear seat belts and that they saw no need for any handles or grips. The most shocking testimony was that the company had a long history of defending lawsuits from individuals who were injured using their product. In fact, they had a line item in their budget to cover lawsuits.

The FBP Expert Analysis

Many organizations build into their budgets the cost of defending lawsuits. Some have an operational philosophy that includes that they will routinely injure users in the normal course of their business. FBP investigations reveal these fatal flaws and create scientific evidence for lack of standard of care.

Many successful companies research opportunities for foreseeable risk and remove them from their products. Even the most diligent companies, however, seldom approach “warranty and customer service problems” as opportunities to find and eliminate the core issues that can cause even the most benign failures. These are the defendants that are most devastated by litigation and least able to justify lapses in foreseeable risk.

It is commonly accepted that products will always have a certain failure rate that is acceptable and unavoidable. Regardless, for plaintiffs, there are typically industry and quality standards that can be successfully argued as the basis for negligence. For defendants, immediate discovery of any legitimate issues of lack of standard of care will lead to the most favorable outcomes.

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[1] The case studies have been redacted and dramatized as to avoid any conflict of confidentiality. They are intended to stimulate strategic thinking, not to be used for case law references.