Hired Guns

Figure 1 Leaking shower valve

We recently investigated the cause of damage to a local residence involving a water leak.  You would think that a water leak would be obvious, and it was, but the cause of the water leak wasn’t.  The water was found to have  been coming from a bathroom shower valve.  It seems that water was leaking from the valve because of a broken plastic piece of the valve stem housing.  The valve is shown in figure 1.  The valve was later removed by the insurance company’s restoration contractor and turned over to an engineering firm for examination.  The engineering company later determined that the valve contained a manufacturer’s defect in the form of a poorly formed plastic component.  The report also stated that no indication of installation error was found.  It should be noted that there were only three modes of failure possible: installation error, manufacturing defect, or a freezing episode.  It should be further noted that this incident occurred in January when temperatures were cold enough to support a freezing scenario.  The expert’s engineering report did not mention a freezing scenario as a possibility of failure. Why?  If the report had mentioned the possibility of damage by freezing, then the insurance company’s case would have been severly weakened.  By not including the possibility of freezing in the report, the insurance company could file suit against the general and plumbing contractors and increased their chances to recover what it had to spend in order to repair the residence.  The expert’s report was clearly written in order to substantiate the insurance company’s position without consideration and explanation given to all possibilities of failure.  As a result, it became clear that the opposing expert was a “hired gun”, someone paid to testify on their client’s behalf regardless of the facts.  These are the kinds of people (and companies) that should be avoided at all costs.  They can be discredited easily because of their lack of consideration for all the facts.  The case was later settled out of court for a fraction of the plaintiff’s originally claimed damages.  

Lightning Hits Car

It’s not unheard of  for lightning to strike a stationary object.  But a moving vehicle?  What are the odds of that happening?  We were recently involved in the investigation of just such a case.  Lightning apparently struck a 2002 Mercury Sable during a rain storm on a major highway.  While examining the vehicle, it  was noted that the end of  the antenna  had been partially melted.  In course of the strike, the  driver was unhurt, but all of the electronic devices had been damaged to the  extent that the entire vehicle was a total loss.  How does that happen?  All vehicles are connected to the negative battery terminal by way of a cable attached to the body/chassis of the  vehicle.  The lightning bolt would simply travel along any metallic surface and branch into all devices by way of their connection to the chassis.  After having traveled through the vehicle, lightning then traveled out of the vehicle and into the ground.  A review of lightning in the area confirmed its presence and the possibility that the vehicle had been hit.  The pictures below show the damage to the antenna and  the pavement.

Damage to antenna caused by lightning

Holes in pavement caused by lightning strike

Flushmate “Exploding” Toilets

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by someone who had experienced firsthand what happens when one of these products fails.  In the late 1990’s the Sloan Valve Companny recalled their Flushmate II and III products because they could develop a leak .  According to the recall information, the leak occurred in a joint connecting the upper and lower halves.  The recall went on to say that the separation of the halves was accompanied by a rapid release of the pressurized water.  It should be noted that the water in the Flushmate was pressurized by whatever the prevailing local pressure is.  In conventional toilets, the water in the tank is not under any pressure.  When the Flushmate tank cracked, the pressurized water had a tendency to fracture a porcelain toilet tank into several pieces.  Needless to  say, anyone in the vicinity of one of these bombs, has the potential for being seriously hurt if not killed.  These products are still out there and the public should know that.  Sloan’s product advisory is still on the web and can be found at http://www.flushmate.com/ProductAdvisory/productadvisory.asp?id=2  The photographs below show a cracked Flushmate and what remains after a the tank exploded.

Cracked Flushhmate tank


Remains of toilet tank

Vehicle Recalls

Ford’s done it again!  So has Honda and Chrysler, among others.  If  you haven’t already heard, Ford and Honda have each recalled over one million vehicles for various problems.  Chrysler isn’t doing as bad but, recalling over a quarter of a million vehicles is still a big problem (visit www.rjhill.com/news/ for details).  After hearing about the recalls I had to ask myself  “Why are all these recalls necessary?”  What happened to all the lessons in quality that car manufacturers were supposed  to have learned back in the 70s and 80s?  Vehicle recalls have been part of  our lives for so long that I wonder what we would do without them.  On the other hand, as long as Detroit keeps putting out cars with problems, I’ll keep investigating them.

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