Case Study 104 – The Deadly Battery Charger

Welcome to Forensic Business Pathology® (FBP) with Tom Taormina. This is Case Study #104 in an ongoing series of anecdotal lessons, based on actual cases, to help litigators achieve their greatest level of success in products liability and organizational negligence tort.

The Incident

A youngster was electrocuted while attempting to charge the battery on his go-cart. The battery charger was very old and in poor repair. The boy was barefoot and the grassy field around the go-cart was saturated from a recent rain storm. The extension cord the boy used to reach the nearest outlet had the ground pin cut off because the older home only hand two-prong, non-polarized receptacles.

The Forensic Investigation

The forensic investigators for the defense developed a body of evidence that they were certain would prove total negligence by the plaintiff and his family that led to his death. The forensic experts for the plaintiff discovered a frayed wire inside the battery charger that, with time and improper manufacturing techniques, caused the metal case and handle of the battery charger to be “live” with 120 volt house current, rather than grounded or neutral.

The FBP Investigation

An FBP investigation of the manufacturing techniques used in the old battery charger were substandard and there were many opportunities for the wires to become abraded and come in contact with other metal objects inside the unit. Further investigation of the current version of that model of battery charger had a plastic coating on the handle and the wiring was bundled and immobilized from moving or abrading during normal use.

The FPB Expert Analysis

Thinking outside the globe requires the manufacturer to search for every potential opportunity for foreseeable risk in their products and manufacturing techniques. In this case, the user was clearly negligent in the use of the product. Regardless of lack of safety warnings, common sense should have prevailed and prevented this tragedy.

Regardless of the negligent use of the product, the case was settled in favor of the plaintiff because the manufacturer was proven to have failed in their duty of care to manufacture a product was innately safe under foreseeable scenarios of misuse by the consumer.

In such cases, and in working with manufacturers of consumer products, we conduct “stupid proofing” exercises to attempt to anticipate every possible misuse of products by consumers. By anticipating misuse, warranty and liability issues can virtually be avoided.

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