Eating out in restaurants has, and always will be, a highly popular practice within social activities. In the United States, food service and drinking sales have steadily increased in the last decade, reaching over 800 billion (U.S. dollars) in 2021. While restaurant outings are usually enjoyable and fun, they sometimes result in an incident where a patron slips, trips, and/or falls on the premises. In fact, over one million guests get injured every year due to falls allegedly induced by slips, trips, or other related occurrences. These incidents often result in hospitality businesses facing extensive litigation costs, which has been estimated at over two billion dollars yearly in the U.S., with this amount rising by 10% every year.
One of the focuses of the hospitality industry is to pay close attention to the design, planning and construction of safe spaces, and implementing good safety practices and protocols. Specific codes and regulations have been developed throughout the years by institutions such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), ISSA (International Sanitary Supply Association), and the ICC (International Code Council) intended for safety and public health protection and to ultimately prevent and avoid incidents that lead to unnecessary costs. Some examples of specific areas of interest that these codes and regulations pertain to include, but are not limited to: selection of appropriate, slip-resistant flooring materials and mats, management of spills, floor cleaning and maintenance, hazard identification, and employee training.
Despite the diligent efforts of hospitality businesses applying the above safety practices to minimize slip, trip, and fall incidents, the reality is that they still occur. Common places where these types of incidents can happen include dining rooms, buffet areas, entryways, hallways, stairways, restrooms, and parking lots. When they occur and result in litigation, identifying the causative factors is crucial for the course of the litigation process and requires a comprehensive forensic investigation performed by a qualified expert.
The goal of forensic engineering and scientific analysis investigations is to understand an incident and why it occurred. Throughout the investigation, a qualified expert applies scientific principles and methodologies from a variety of areas including human factors, human movement biomechanics, injury biomechanics, and building codes and standards in conjunction with good engineering safety practices. In particular, the human factors field evaluates the interaction between humans and their environment, including the products and equipment that are required for the task that is being performed. It takes into consideration human capabilities and/or attributes such as field of view, visual perception, strength, cognitive processes, and anthropometrics. Additionally, the analysis of human movement biomechanics is critical to consider in slip, trip, and fall scenarios to analyze dynamic environments and understand the body’s response in terms of movements (i.e. kinematics) and forces (i.e. kinetics). Furthermore, the ancillary discipline of injury biomechanics ascertains the presence and/or absence of an injury mechanism in an incident to determine if a causal relationship exists between a claimed injury and the event being investigated.