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A Case Study In Product Liability And Standards

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.15.1 - 8.15.11



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Paper Authors

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Richard Forbes

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Mary Emplaincourt

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1566

Engineering Standards and Product Liability Richard E. Forbes, Ph.D., P.E. and Mary C. Emplaincourt, M.S., M.A.

Mississippi State University


Engineering standards are developed and promulgated by various agencies and technical associations such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI), etc. In the legal environment published standards constitute the minimum requirements in performance criteria. Standards can even take the effect of law if they appear, for example, in building codes. Cities and municipalities in the south adopt the building codes developed and published by SBCCI almost universally.

Many engineering students receive the B. S. degree with little or no exposure to engineering standards. This deficiency can easily be corrected by introducing standards (or portions) during appropriate sections of conventional technical courses or laboratories. For example, the author has required laboratory students to perform portions of the performance tests for audible back up alarms used on some construction equipment (SAE standard). Note that OSHA requires these alarms on certain equipment. As a minimum, students should be made aware of the existence of standards and the importance they have in the workplace.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the application of standards in the product liability arena. The example cited is for Industrial Rotary Mower and the associated blades. The standards for the mower and blades are SAE J232 Apr94 and ANSI/ASAE S483 Jul93.

Background In 1998 Camilla Haynes was killed when a 13-pound blade (Fig. 1) broke loose from an industrial rotary mower and flew through the windshield (Fig. 2) hitting Haynes in the chin and throat area, crushing her jugular vein and spine. Driving along I-55 in Jackson, Mississippi, Mrs. Haynes, the driver of the vehicle, was traveling from her home in Arkansas with her children and mother to a family vacation in Florida when the accident occurred. Two years later a Mississippi jury, in federal court, returned the largest known damage award ($12 million) in the state’s history to the Estate of Camilla Haynes. The defendants named in the lawsuit were the blade manufacturer, the manufacturer of the industrial mower, and the company that the Mississippi Department of Transportation had contracted to mow the grass. In the informal investigative phase of the matter, the expert witnesses determined that the blade and mower manufacturers had not complied with the appropriate published standards. Furthermore, the expert witnesses stated that the mower manufacturer had not followed sound engineering practices.

During formal depositions in the discovery phase of the suit, expert witnesses for both plaintiff and defendants testified that proper procedure, prescribed in the standards and in the “Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education”

Forbes, R., & Emplaincourt, M. (2003, June), A Case Study In Product Liability And Standards Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11977

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