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Personal Injury Due to Glass Breakage, Window Detachment and Mirror Breakage

Despite codes and standards for safety glazing and consumer product safety, injuries continue to occur due to glass and mirror breakage, and window detachment. Who is at fault? What went wrong?

Some believe that glass, more than most other building materials, conveys enhanced value, especially in newer buildings. It is not uncommon to see buildings clad entirely in glass, with yet more glass and mirrors on the interior spaces.

The downside of glass is the danger it poses to the public when it breaks. Even tempered glass can break in a way that produces injuries. Despite safety glazing codes and consumer safety standards, glass breakage injuries still occur.

Recent examples:

J.E. v N.M.L, Boca Raton, FL.
A large bathroom mirror became detached from the wall, broke and impacted and cut the occupant who was unclothed.

J.C. v 1213C, Evanston, IL.
A double hung window sash fell from the open position onto the neck of the occupant.

M.G. v R.J.M, Chicago, IL
A storm window blew off a building and impacted and injured a city worker.

D.P v F.S.H., Chicago, IL
A hotel guest was injured when a glass shower door exploded while she showered.

When glass breaks, evidence is often quickly swept away, making forensic investigation more difficult. Nonetheless, most matters presents voluminous evidence, including the deposition testimony, allowing the expert to assemble the clues and arrive at an opinion.

Tools of the glass breakage expert include microscopic examination, testing of attachment methods, wind simulations, impact calculations, stress testing of glass, and purposeful breakage of similar glass lites with slow motion videography.

Information gained from these avenues are combined with an analysis of code and specification requirements and an overall survey of the site for environmental contributors.

The expert will know that different types of glass break differently. Tempered glass breaks in small pieces. It is this property that allows tempered glass to be called "safety glass". Laminated glass is also called "safety glass" for the reason that the plastic laminate within the glass holds the pieces together following breakage.

Safety glass is required in areas considered hazardous by the codewriters, such as glass doors, sidelites and shower doors. Some codes call for safety glass where glass is adjacent to walking surfaces. Although the codes are becoming more uniform, a review of the specific code applicable to the situation is necessary. This includes not only correct code book, but also the version.

An interesting area of investigation is the question of how the glass was being used at the time of the accident. Was it being used properly, or was it used in a way that exceeded typical usage? If typical usage was exceeded, was this due to the activities of the injured party or a nearby third party? Equally possible is that the usage of the glass was exceeded by the physical configuration of the environment or even the hardware on the glass assembly.

By Mark Meshulam
Windows, Glass, Curtainwalls, Building Exteriors Consultant and Expert Witness
Mark Meshulam has over 33 years experience in construction, consulting, contracting, laboratory and field testing, forensic investigations, insurance claims and expert witness work. He specializes in windows, glass, mirrors, curtainwalls, entrances, skylights, panel systems, louvers, sealants and similar architectural products.

Copyright Mark Meshulam

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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