Special equipment is needed to maneuver a wheelchair bound occupant into a vehicle, as well as safely secure the occupant and the wheelchair. When a mishap is alleged to have occurred, the mechanical engineer will evaluate the contributing factors to the incident.
Common Issues the Mechanical Engineering Expert Addresses Regarding Wheelchair Transport Cases:
- Wheelchair performance
- Wheelchair lift mechanical function
- Wheelchair lift operation
- Wheelchair lift maintenance history
- Wheelchair docking system performance
- Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint System (WTORS) performance
- Wheelchair tiedown installation
- Wheelchair occupant restraint use and installation
The Mechanical Engineer:
- Reviews information related to incident
- Evaluates performance of system during incident
- Reviews intended or proper operation of wheelchair lift
- Reviews wheelchair lift maintenance and repair records
- Inspects post-incident condition of lift components
- Inspects wheelchair and docking system components
- Reviews how wheelchair and occupant were restrained at the time of incident
- Reviews proper use of Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint System (WTORS)
- Inspects installation and condition of Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint System (WTORS)
- Verifies standards compliance for Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint System (WTORS)
Wheelchair Transport Expert Case Study
Case Synopsis: A residential facility contracted with a transport service to transport a resident to another facility for treatment. The patient was to be transported in her own power wheelchair. The resident was picked up by the driver from the transport service and taken out to the vehicle, which then departed for the other facility. While enroute, the transport van was struck by another vehicle, which reportedly failed to stop at a stop sign. After the crash, the wheelchair occupant was found entrapped in the occupant belt with the shoulder portion across her neck and the wheelchair overturned. The wheelchair occupant died from blunt force trauma and neck fracture. In addition to the residential facility, transport company and both drivers, the manufacturers of the van, wheelchair and wheelchair restraint system were also defendants.
Expert Analysis: The damage to the transport van showed a moderate severity impact to the right front corner. While the wheelchair had been removed from the vehicle after the crash, the wheelchair tiedown straps were still attached to the floor tracks. The positioning of the anchors along the tracks was inconsistent with the size of the wheelchair in use at the time of the crash. The front and rear anchors were attached too close to each other and the rear anchors were closer together than required for proper securement of the wheelchair. The driver’s employer was unable to produce any training records for the driver related to the use of Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint Systems (WTORS). In deposition, the driver of the transport van was not able to correctly describe how to attach the WTORS used in the vehicle, and admitted they had only briefly been shown how to use the system when they began working for the transport company. The driver also testified no one from the facility went out to the vehicle when the resident was transported to, and secured in the van.
Review of the vehicle, WTORS, and wheelchair showed no evidence of problems or defects which would have prevented the system from functioning properly had it been correctly used by the transport driver. The residential facility’s contract required the transport company to supply a vehicle with WTORS and a driver certified in the use of the WTORS by the manufacturer of the system. The contract also indicated the transport company was responsible for the transport of the resident from the time they exited the building until they were returned to the building.
Result: Due to the lack of any evidence of defects with the involved products, the manufacturers were dismissed from the case. Settlement was reached prior to trial, with the remaining parties with the transport company paying the largest portion of the settlement.
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