Importance of Leveling

Approximately four years ago, we conducted an examination of a reach-in cooler to determine why the door came off its upper hinge and struck the customer on the head who opened the door.  The injury to the customer’s head wasn’t serious but, a lawsuit did follow and was later settled out of court.  The cooler was typical of those found in grocery and convenience stores where shoppers can get milk, juice, or other cold beverages (see photo below). 

Reach-in cooler where the center door separated from upper hinge and hit custome

In order to understand how the accident occurred, the importance of leveling the cooler must be understood.  Leveling the cooler means that all of the horizontal surfaces are parallel and all of the vertical surfaces are parallel,  More specifically, the cooler door must be at right angles to the to the hinge brackets.  In this case, the cooler was not leveled during installation.  For whatever reason, the center leveling leg was found to have been lost when the cooler was installed.  When a leveling leg was finally installed on the cooler, it was never adjusted to make the cooler level.  As a result, the weight of the contents inside the cooler caused two horizontal structural members to bend (see photos below). The resulting bends caused the door to drop downward and at a small angle to the hinge brackets.  More importantly, the upper hinge pin dropped low enough in the hinge bracket so that when the door was opened, the hinge pin spun out of the hinge bracket causing the door to separate.  When the separation occurred, the tendency of the door was to rotate about the lower hinge and strike the customer.  

Upper and lower structural members bent in approximate center of cooler, leveling legs on ends adjusted for leveling
Center leveling leg found in fully inserted position, cooler not leveled

About R.J. Hill, P.E.
R. J. Hill is the author of two blogs: R.J. Hill Consulting and the Descendants of James Alexander Hill. Mr. Hill is a registered professional (mechanical) engineer with 42 years of experience, 37 years in private practice. Please visit www.rjhill.com to see the kinds of forensic investigations that Mr. Hill performs.

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