Injuries attributed to human error are often the result of design-induced human error.
Whether your personal injury case involves your own actions or the actions of another which caused harm to come to you, design errors often play a large role in why these actions were taken. Design flaws can exist in products themselves, warning labels or warning signs, or in instructional materials.
Victims are often blamed for contributing to their own injuries by taking the wrong action in a given situation. This can be a very sympathetic argument. Why should irresponsible behavior be rewarded? Why should we compensate someone for an injury that they could and should have avoided? These are worthy questions which can easily be presented as common sense elements of a case. In reality this is only a partial representation of how the human mind works and what people really do, how we function, and what is necessary for us to perform our everyday tasks. There is a science behind it, called Human Factors Engineering, which common sense does not always reveal.
Taken alone, the idea that we must critically analyze every action and decision may seem reasonable, but if we were to do so we would most likely die from lack of accomplishing anything. The details of very complex tasks are handled by our subconscious, making them appear simple and automatic. The way we interact with our environment is largely governed by past experience and habit.
Human factors covers a wide range of topics, but comes down to one basic element – determining what human beings are most likely to do versus what they may or should do in any given situation. Human factors design flaws fall under several categories including:
- Behavior Human behavior can be hard to predict, but certain common behaviors are known through research and statistics. This knowledge is used to guide design, often requiring safety features meant to block typical, but unsafe, behavior.
- Warnings Warning labels and signs must be prominent and clear. Warning design is typically standardized so that it is easily recognizable and meaningful to the user. An excess of warnings or warnings of non-existent dangers can be just as bad as a lack of warnings, causing users to ignore them.
- Instructions Instructions must be thorough, accurate, and meaningful to the user. When instructions are authored by someone who has an in-depth knowledge of a product, they may be technically accurate, but not clear and informative to an unskilled or less knowledgeable user.
- Task Performance People have ingrained ways of doing things when using certain types of products. This comes from practice and habit. Accidents and injuries often occur when a product cannot be safely used in the manner that similar products are normally used.
- Ergonomics Ergonomics involves using standard human measurements (anthropometrics) when designing products with the least likelihood for causing injury.
To the lay person these elements are usually not obvious, but don’t let that fool you. Product manufacturers, designers of warning signs and labels, and even marketing experts, are aware of the subconscious cues that go into decision making, and often a human factors expert is employed to ensure proper design. There is, in fact, enough research and knowledge on human factors to influence laws and regulations that govern many basic designs such as the shape and color of stop signs and other warning signs, product designs such as the layout of gear shifts in vehicles, and building codes such as the requirement that all stairs in a stairway be the same height to prevent tripping.
Human factors are very important in personal injury lawsuits. Working with an attorney who understands and has experience with cases involving human factors is crucial to effectively presenting your case.
If you feel that or a loved one has been injured due to a design flaw or inadequate warnings, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today.