Fall from Bulkhead

A 12- year-old child slipped and fell off a log bulkhead into a river and was swept away by the current and drowned. The bulkhead had long been abandoned. The top of it was covered with silt, dirt, gravel, and weeds. The side exposed to the water was slippery due, in part, to the growth of algae. Adjacent to the area containing the bulkhead, there was a recently constructed playground. The abandoned bulkhead was not fenced off.
HF Issues: Could it have been anticipated that constructing a playground near the location of the bulkhead increased the likelihood that children would be attracted to it? To what extent did the bulkhead pose a hazard to children and others who were at risk of drowning in the river? To what extent and under what conditions was the hazard latent?

HF Investigation: Information obtained included, but was not limited to, the height and weight of the child; bulkhead dimensions; the angle of friction at which footwear slipped off the bulkhead; measurements of the direction and speed of the river's currents and the magnitude of changes in water level with the tides; and photographs and video of the natural bank of the river in the areas adjacent to the bulkhead.

HF Analysis: A 3D computer model of the bulkhead and child was created. The natural shoreline was shallower than the site containing the bulkhead. The steep sides of the log bulkhead increased the likelihood of slipping and falling into the river.

Film clips of a buoy being carried away by the current revealed the danger.

The case went to trial. It was argued by defense that the log bulkhead constituted a natural condition, and the bulkhead could be clearly seen under certain viewing conditions. The attorney for the child's family held that the bulkhead was an artificial hazard that posed an unreasonable risk to children who would be drawn to it from the nearby playground.


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