Who Owns the Evidence?

Recently, we conducted the examination of a 2013 Kia Soul, the purpose of which was to determine the cause of a fire. The vehicle had developed a problem with the antilock braking system and was taken to a local shop for repair. While on the shop’s lot and after an overnight, the vehicle was destroyed by fire the following day. During the examination of the vehicle, it was later confirmed that the fire had occurred on the repair shop’s property. It was also confirmed that the vehicle was owned by a third party. As a result, since the vehicle was evidence in the investigation, and since the vehicle was owned by the third party, the right of evidence ownership belonged to the third party. The implication being that any disassembly, or more importantly, any destruction of the evidence could be regarded as an act of “spoliation”. Spoliation of evidence refers to evidence that has been violated to the extent that one party to a lawsuit cannot use the evidence to prove its case. The party that causes the spoliation can usually be held liable by means of litigation. In these types of cases where the owner of the evidence is not the investigating expert’s client, care must be taken not to handle, remove, or otherwise examine something that can be altered by handling, broken, or replaced in its original position or state. It is advisable to photograph and document the condition of evidence and then conduct a joint examination with all interested parties at a later time.

Water Damage and Frost-Proof Faucets

Many homes and businesses are now equipped with something called a frost-proof faucet.  These devices are nothing new and have been around for several years.  They have all but replaced the old style water hydrants that had to be wrapped or covered and protected during winter months to keep them from bursting.  But, in order for a frost-proof faucet to work properly, it must be installed properly.  You would think that a plumber would be especially mindful of the consequences if they didn’t do the job right.  In any case, frost-proof faucets do rupture and the resulting water leakage can cause damage, either in a crawl space or inside a wall.  The photographs below show how the copper tube expanded at the point of rupture indicating where the water turned to ice and stressed the tube to the point of failure.  In order to understand what happened, it is necessary to understand that the faucet is equipped with a long stem that runs from the valve handle to the end of the copper tube where the water line is connected.  This is where the valve seat is located.  The valve seat is actually the part that stops the water flow when the valve is turned off.  If the faucet is installed horizontally or pitched upward, water will stay inside the copper tube instead of draining out of the hose connection end when the faucet is turned off.  The faucet must be pitched slightly downward with the hose connection end lower than the water line inlet end. Even if the valve seat is leaking, water must be allowed to drain out of the faucet.  In the case of the faucet in the photograph, when the water froze, its tendency was to expand to approximately 9 to 11% of its volume.  However, because of the enclosure within the copper tube, the ice could not freely expand.  As a result, the tube wall was stressed to a point where failure occurred.

Failed Water Hydrant
Expanded copper wall shown as bulge just to left of water line attachment
Area of copper tube wall failure

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

Hyundai and Kia Latest Engine Fire Updates

Hyundai and Kia are still having problems with engine fires.  The manufacturers are now telling owners to park their vehicles outside of their garages and carports because their vehicles can suddenly ignite even if the vehicles have not been driven.  The warning applies to approximately 485,000 vehicles in the U.S.  The problem is with the antilock braking system module which can leak fluid and cause an internal short circuit that leads to a fire.  This recall now includes 2014 – 2016 Kia Sportage, 2016 – 2019 K900 Sedans, 2016 – 2018 Santa Fe SUVs, 2017 – 2018 Santa Fe Sports, 2019 Santa Fe XL, and 2014 – 2015 Tucson SUVs.  Dealers are supposed to replace a fuse and if necessary the anti-lock brake control module.  Kia is expected to begin notifying owners beginning on March 31st and Hyundai owners will be notified beginning on April 5th.  We have previously reported on this issue and the articles are still available for review.  The articles are in the following posting sates: Feb 2020, Sept 2020, Jan 2021, May 2021, and Dec 2021.  The articles can be accessed by clicking on the month and year located on the right side margin and scrolling through the page after it loads.  For additional information, about the recalls, owners can contact Hyundai or Kia by phone or email as listed in the articles.   

More About Hyundai and Kia Engine Fires

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it is continuing its investigation of engine fires in Hyundai and Kia vehicles.  NHTSA has reportedly opened a new engineering analysis that covers in excess of 3 million vehicles.  It should be noted that some of the vehicles have already been recalled.  The vehicles in question are 2011 through 2016 Hyundai Elantra, Santa Fe and Sonata; and, Kia Optima, Rio, Sorento, and Soul.  These are the same engine problems that were reported in September of 2020 and again in January and May of 2021 on our blog.  All of the vehicles involved in the investigation are equipped with one of the following engines: Theta II GDI, Theta II MPI, Theta II MPI Hybrid, NU GDI, and Gamma GDI. For additional information, owners can visit NHTSA’s website at www.nhtsa.gov or contact their Hyundai/Kia dealer.       

Happy Holidays Everyone!

We have had a very successful year despite battling the pandemic, bad news around the country and the world, and people’s frustration with everything in general. We are also very thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon us. Our hope is for 2022 to be an even better year than 2021.

We would like to wish everyone a HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON!

Water Pipe Damage Due to Arcing

Several years ago, it was permissible to “ground” an electrical system by attaching a wire from the grounding strip or terminal inside the fuse or breaker panel to a metallic pipe.  In many older homes and commercial buildings, this is still the case.  The intended purpose of doing so is to channel stray current directly to earth ground in order to prevent injury and damage to people and property.  Stray current can come from electrical problems with appliances, power surge and lightning.  In a recent investigation, a situation was discovered where electric utility wiring was faulty and caused their side of the power supply to a residence to energize the “ground” or neutral side of the supply.  The end result was the creation of several arcs between the ground wire strap and a copper water pipe.  The arcing that occurred was intense enough to burn holes in the piping.  Since the pipe was part of the hot water supply to the home, the home was flooded.  The damage to the pipe is shown in the photo below.   

Water Inside Your Crawlspace?

Recently, Tennessee and many parts of the southeast have been experiencing a large amount of rain.  Not everyone has been flooded but, what about homes that have been inundated with water in a crawlspace.  When you stop to think about it, water entering a space where it shouldn’t be is the result of groundwater where the water table level is higher than the ground inside the crawlspace.  If not acted upon to remove, the water will cause floor joists and subflooring to mold and rot.  The moisture will also ruin air duct insulation and given enough time, will cause cinder block and brick walls to crack.  The photo below shows an extreme case where water has accumulated inside a crawl space and the process of decay has already begun. 

Although a remedy should have been in place long ago, drainage and foundation companies will usually recommend installing their “patented drainage systems”.  These systems usually include a sump, sump pump, and drainage piping, all for a few thousand dollars.  While these systems will work in most cases, most people don’t realize that the system is actually treating a symptom.  Water will continue to enter the crawl space as long as the water table level is above ground level in the crawl space.  The solution to this problem is to lower the water table level to a few feet below the foundation level so that when it rains any water that seeps into the ground is pumped away before it can enter the crawl space.  Unfortunately, many municipalities and states have strict laws governing drilling wells and pumping water out of the ground, and it can be expensive.  But if you’re lucky enough to be able to use an auger and drill to a depth beneath the level of the foundation, about three to four feet, you might be able to use a submersible or pedestal pump to remove the water.  It will take some time but, each time the pump is energized, a certain amount of water is removed and creates a void in the space where the pump is located.  The tendency will be for the water to fill the void and in the process, the water level has to go down.  Just some food for thought…          

Water Damage and Attic Installed Air Handlers

Most people are aware that air conditioning units can come as a package, everything in one box; or as a combination of two pieces of equipment, an outdoor condensing unit and an indoor air handler.  Remote, or split systems as they are often called, are specifically designed so that the air handling unit has to be located in an interior area where it can be safely operated and maintained.  One of the areas commonly used for air handler installation is the attic space of a building or residential structure.  Regardless of the location, provision must be made during the installation to catch water should the unit begin to leak.  It should be noted that water is a product of the cooling process.  That is, as air passes over the cooling coil, water can condense out of the air.  A drain line is typically connected to the cooling coil housing and routed away from the unit to the outside.  But, if for some reason the water does not drain correctly, it can begin to accumulate inside the air handler and will find a way to escape.  In order to capture the leakage and prevent structural damage, drain pans are commonly placed beneath the unit for this purpose.  It is the responsibility of the installing contractor to make sure that the drain pan is sufficiently large to catch whatever water leakage might occur wherever it happens to flow out of the equipment.  The photograph below shows a typical installation.  The problem that occurred here was that the drain pipe filled with debris and caused the drain water to back-up into the cooling coil and plenum.  When the water exited the unit, it missed the drain pan entirely and damaged the ceilings over the dining room and garage.  In this case, the drain pan was not large enough to fit under the air handler and plenum and was therefore useless.  Because of the damage that occurred, the installing contractor was held responsible. 

Applications of Investigative Mechanical Engineering

Although we have been practicing forensic engineering for over 30 years, it has come to our attention that many adjusters in the commercial and personal property lines markets may not know the extent of our services.  So, a list of services has been attached below.  Most of the applications are self explanatory.  However, every once in a while, someone will ask if the loss they are handling is within the scope of our expertise.  While it would be impossible for an adjuster to recognize every scenario, we welcome questions about our services as they pertain to the loss.  Recently, we were asked if a water loss involving a skid steer was something we could evaluate.  The loss involved determining whether engine damage was part of the loss and should have been covered.  This application was definitely within our experience and service capability.  In general, if the loss involves something mechanical or electro-mechanical, we can usually accept the assignment.  Please feel free to make contact by calling the office or emailing directly,  Our contact information can be found on the “About” page of our website located at www.rjhill.com.

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