Engineering expert witness opines on falling retail display that caused a brain injury to a child

Michael Morgenstern

Written by
— Updated on January 24, 2022

Engineering expert witnessWhile shopping at a food store, a five-year-old girl was struck in the head by five falling shelves from a freestanding wall end display unit. It was stocked with candy. The child suffered a brain injury. The girl’s father filed a premises liability action against the store, alleging violation of its duty of care. He also asserts that it was reasonably foreseeable that such an injury would occur. The display contained candy, yet the unit was not designed to hold candy. Further, the shelving unit was improperly installed and stocked and was not secured, as recommended by the manufacturer.

The store and its insurer settled the case then filed a subrogation action against the company that set up the store.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Who put up the display unit?
  • 2. What forces were required to tip it?

Expert Witness Response

The accident that injured the child was entirely unrelated to the set up of the market or any work performed by the defendant. At the conclusion of the market set-up performed by the defendant’s personnel, there was no end-cap display rack installed at the location where the child was injured. The end-cap that was positioned at the accident location had been put in place subsequent to the market set-up. The frame of the display rack consisting of the upright standards and base together with two shelves and their contents remained in place and did not tip over during the accident. The injury to the child more probably than not occurred when the child came in contact with the display rack. The cause of the shelves falling from the rack was the result of improper installation in the standards.

Testing of an exemplar shelving unit showed that the child’s weight applied to the front edge of a shelf was insufficient to cause forward tipping of the empty subject display rack assembled with either seven or eight shelves. Distribution of merchandise uniformly over the upper surfaces of the shelves acts to resist forward tipping of the subject display rack under the force of the child’s weight applied to the front edge of a shelf. No weight of merchandise distributed uniformly on the surfaces of the display rack (assembled either with seven or eight) shelves is sufficient to cause the display rack to tip forward under the child’s weight applied to the front edges of the shelves. The weight of merchandise displayed only at the front edges of the shelves would act together with the weight of the child applied to the front edges of the shelves and act to cause tipping of the display rack. The space available adjacent to the front edges of the subject display rack shelves is insufficient to accommodate enough weight of candy boxes to cause the display rack to tip when the child’s weight is applied to the front edges of the shelves. The downward force necessary to cause a 54-inch high display rack assembled with the 9¾-inch base bracket to tip forward is smaller than the force require to cause forward tipping of the 72-inch high display rack assembled with the same base bracket.

The expert is a metallurgical engineer and professor emeritus of metallurgical engineering. He has more than 40 years of practical work experience and nearly 30 years as an engineering professor. He has consulted on numerous failure analyses.

Contact this expert witness

Find a Business Expert Witness Near You

What State is your case in?

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY