The vast majority of cases dealing with hose failure involve seriously debilitating injuries, including extensive or deadly burns when hydraulic fluid from a ruptured hose is sprayed or ignited. Frequently, the defendant in those cases has been able to avoid liability by demonstrating compliance with industry standards.
Consider the case of an electrical contractor employee who died from injuries received when a hydraulic fluid hose burst and caused an aerial bucket to catch on fire. The fire forced the employee to leap from the bucket, causing injuries that resulted in death. At issue was whether the aerial bucket was defectively designed because it did not have a quick disconnect coupling for the hoses. The court considered the relevant industry standards in finding that the product was reasonably designed and not unreasonably dangerous.
The National Fluid Power Association-(www.nfpa.com) sets standards such as cylinder-sizes, mounting styles for components, testing methods for fluid power devices, and numerous others. Other fluid power standards organizations include the American Society for Testing and Materials (www.astm.org) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (www.sae.org). The American National Standards Institute (www.ansi.org) coordinates the efforts of organizations, such as those just mentioned, whose responsibilities overlap. ANSI seeks to ensure that there is a truly national standard by establishing a consensus among the concerned parties. The International Standards Organization (www.iso.ch) performs a similar function on the international level.
A designer or manufacturer of fluid power systems may wish to consider SAE J1273, which provides guidelines for the selection, routing, fabrication, installation, replacement, maintenance, and storage of hose and hose assemblies for fluid power systems. This publication references other publications and organizations that can assist in the selection and application of hydraulic hoses. SAE J1273 and other useful standards can be found at www.sae.org. Also, some manufacturers of hoses issue excellent safety guides, such as Parker-Hannifin Corp.'s Guide For Selecting and Using Hose, Tubing, Fittings and Related Accessories, which can be found at www.parker.com/ead/cm2.asp?cmid=3530&
At trial, expert witnesses typically rely upon industry standards in expressing their opinions as to the alleged defective design of a system or failure to warn an end-user of the hazards inherent in a system. In testifying on behalf of a plaintiff, such an expert will go to great lengths to illustrate that the designer or manufacturer of a fluid power system failed to comply with industry standards.
Such was the case when a bulldozer operator was burned over 48% of his body from a ruptured hydraulic hose that sprayed fluid over the operator and the bulldozer engine, setting them both ablaze. The original equipment hydraulic hoses were made with four layers of steel wrappings for durability. These hoses were stabilized in a tube assembly that was bolted to the bulldozer. Before the accident, a bolt that attached the tube assembly to the bulldozer had broken off and the tube assembly itself was bent about 20°. Further, when the accident occurred, the original equipment hydraulic hoses on the dozer had been replaced with non-original equipment manufacturer hoses, which were an inch too long.
Moreover, the hoses were installed backwards, even though the manufacturer's maintenance manual illustrated their proper installation. These conditions permitted the hoses to scrape against the hood of the dozer resulting in the rupture.
According to the plaintiff's expert, a deflecting shield should have been designed and installed to prevent hydraulic fluid in the ruptured hydraulic hose from spraying the operator. That expert relied upon a guard and shielding standard found in ISO 3457. Fortunately for the manufacturer of the bulldozer, the jury found against the plaintiff, since the operator was fully aware of the danger posed by operating the dozer in its condition, and since the manufacturer's operating and maintenance manuals disclosed sufficient instructions and warnings.
If you have the misfortune of being involved in a lawsuit arising out of a hose failure, the ability to illustrate that the designer and manufacturer complied with all relevant industry standards, while not a guarantee, will go a long way in convincing the jury that they should not return a verdict against you.
Pete C. Elliott is vice-chairperson of the Trial Department at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP in Cleveland, and is the team leader of its Fluid Power Defense Group. Contact Elliott at [email protected]