The Case of Ipse Dixit, or, Because I Say So
Synopsis: If a little learning is a dangerous thing (Alexander Pope) a lot more may make things quite a bit worse (Bob Boesel). Here, two PhD, P.E.s bumble and bungle their way through a lawsuit over a failed sump pump.
Background: TI’s client insured a manufacturer of sump pumps and in a large residential loss a claim of defective manufacture of a sump pump was alleged by two ‘experts’ who each signed their reports “PhD, P.E.”
Assignment: TI was requested to review and comment upon the preliminary and destructive exam reports, and in particular, the technical merit of the allegations of defective manufacture.
Analysis: TI routinely performs thorough forensic science exams on sump and sewage pumps and is similarly experienced in the litigation process. It was immediately noted that the experts had performed a destructive exam without the manufacturer being placed on notice. It was noted that their report on destructive exam contradicted their earlier preliminary report with respect to whether or not the float switch was failed permanently open circuit. They cut the top off the switch housing without first determining its functional status even though 7 months had passed since the initial inspection. Then, they performed no actual tests on the magnetic linkage or on the microswitch within the switch housing. They merely concluded that “Either the vibration of the cutting operation changed the performance of the switch or there was an “open” elsewhere in the plug circuit that was not pinpointed in earlier testing.” The float switch was given a pass by the experts without electrical tests.
The experts’ next step was to connect the pump directly to power and while it started, the motor had insufficient torque to spin the impeller fast enough to actually discharge water under pressure. With no measurement of the depth of oil within the housing, the pump was drained, and with more ‘liquid’ poured out of the pump than the volume of the factory oil charge. They did not indicate whether or not there was free water in the oil or emulsified in the oil. Then, ignorant of the non-destructive means of opening pump housings, and with no prior electrical tests, they sawed open the cast iron motor housing destroying any ability for proper tests to be conducted later by others. The start run capacitor was found burst and with this single finding and no actual testing, the experts concluded the pump failed as the result of the capacitor failure and that the failure occurred at 2 years use in the 5-year warranty period, thus pointing the finger at the manufacturer.
TI began its report as follows: “Taken as a whole, the two reports published by (the experts) reflect an unusually minimalistic approach to forensic science and analysis of a failed sump pump, as well as an unusually inept methodology and lack of concern for precision in forensic science analysis.” The report went on for 17 pages listing in detail the errors made by the ‘experts’ in what they did as well as the omission of tests and measurements that should have been conducted. The litigation went nowhere.