Why (and When) You Need to Consult a Human Factors Expert for Litigation Support

Human Factor is everywhere. If your case involves a human, then more likely than not, your case may benefit from a Human Factors assessment.

In general, "human factor" is a physical or cognitive property of an individual or social behavior specific to humans that may influence the functioning of technological systems. Thus, Human Factors is the science of how humans interact with the systems around them and relies on scientific principles, data, and research methods as well as diverse disciplines such as anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and physics to untangle and illuminate the factors that affect humans.

Human Factors is a systems approach. In such a complex world, the scientific field of Human Factors takes a systems approach and considers the user's capabilities and limitations and the broader context of the human in the environment, organization, job, function, and task including when focusing on a specific type of interaction. When people are involved in incidents that result in injuries to themselves or others or damage to property, it is essential to understand how people’s actions may or may not have contributed. Human Factors/ergonomics professionals are often uniquely qualified to evaluate and explain how environmental, situational, and contextual cues may have influenced an individual’s behaviors. Human Factors forensic professionals often apply scientific data and perform field tests, visibility studies, and other systematic studies to develop demonstratives and support their opinions expressed in depositions and trials.

Identifying when to consult a Human Factors professional. With such broad applications, it is understandable that it may be difficult to discern when a Human Factors professional is needed for litigation support.  If you find yourself questioning whether the events leading to the subject incident may have been influenced or impacted by an individual’s mental, perceptual, or physical responses, or lack thereof, that is a cue that you may need to consult a Human Factors professional. A Human Factors evaluation may range from a general assessment of the case to answering targeted questions depending on the case.

Examples of Human Factors investigations performed by Explico:

  • Amusement and Entertainment Industry
  • Assessment of Reasonable Accommodations
  • Assistive Technologies (i.e., ADA, ADAS)
  • Driver/Operator Behaviors, Capabilities, Limitations, and Expectations
  • Ergonomics, Movement, and Strength Capabilities
  • Human Factors in Transportation Accidents and Traffic Safety
  • Industrial, Occupational, and Construction Machinery Operation (i.e., Forklift, Cranes, Aerial Work Platforms, etc.) and Safety
  • Macroergonomics and Systems (i.e., Hospitals, Schools, Manufacturing Plants)
  • Medical Devices and Operating Room Settings
  •  Premises Accidents (i.e., Slips, Trips, and Falls, Lockout/Tagout – LOTO, Machine Guarding)
  • Professional/Consumer Product Safety and Hazard Evaluation
  • Perception, Decision Making, Attention, Distraction, and Memory
  • User Experience
  • Visibility and Conspicuity in Low-Light and Dark Environments
  • Warnings, Labeling, and Instructions (in Multiple Languages)
  • Workplace Acute or Chronic Injuries
  • ... and more

Though a general question that encompasses Human Factors can be outlined as Given the situation and the actions and limitations of the individual, was this incident avoidable? More specific questions that can be answered by a Human Factors professional include:

  • Was there sufficient information available (i.e., warnings, training, etc.) for the employee to have avoided this incident?
  • Did the supervisors and managers establish a proper lockout/tagout procedure?
  • Was the pedestrian/bicycle/vehicle detectable to an alert and prudent driver?
  • Was the obstacle (i.e., step, curve) visible to the pedestrian?
  • Was the floor too slippery for any person walking across that path? What may have contributed to this incident (i.e., shoes, attention, warnings, medical history, history of falls, etc.)?
  • Did the skilled tradesman understand the dangers of the hazardous chemical?
  • Was this consumer product defective?
  • Did the employee receive sufficient training?
  • What factors contributed to this amusement ride accident?

Human Factors experts can work alongside others to solidify the overall analysis. Distinct from an accident reconstructionist, biomechanics expert, or even psychologist, a Human Factors professional applies their technical expertise to forensic investigations to evaluate why an individual acted in a certain way in that environment. For example, an accident reconstructionist may be able to determine the traveling speed, and locations of the vehicle at certain moments prior to and at impact. A Human Factors professional can use that information to determine a range for the driver’s perception reaction times and the likelihood of visibility and detection.

Contacting a Human Factors professional early allows for the development of the best product. At Explico, we have seen how clients benefit from consulting a Human Factors expert early in the life of a case. This provides the expert the opportunity to assess the available evidence, provide opinions on key issues, and help formulate your argument. A Human Factors investigation may include review of factual information, data analytics, user testing, review of applicable literature, standards and regulations, competitive product reviews, site/product inspection, physical measurements, proper photographs and documentation, light measurements, slip testing, laser scanning, simulations/animations/demonstrations, tests, or experiments, as is relevant to the case.

Our Human Factors experts* are available to discuss how they can best assist you. Explico’s Human Factors professionals have over 30 years of combined experience in performing human factors investigations internationally and regularly provide testimony for litigation matters as well as consulting for non-litigation matters. We implement cutting-edge technology and are trained in state-of-the-art inspection and documentation techniques and equipment that enable us to perform high-yield site and vehicle/product/machinery inspections with the goal of conveying complex findings in simple, concise terms. In addition, Explico’s visualization capabilities facilitate the development of real-time rendering and/or immersive and compelling visuals/demonstratives that help us deliver information effectively to a diverse jury.

If you would like to discuss a case that may need Human Factors assistance, please reach out to Dr. Figueroa (rfigueroa@explico.com).

About the Author:

Dr. Figueroa is a Human Factors professional certified by the Board of Certification of Professional Ergonomics. She also holds a BSE in Industrial Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez, a MSE in Industrial and Operations Engineering (specializing in human factors and ergonomics), and a PhD in Industrial Engineering (specializing in ergonomics and hand biomechanics), both from the University of Michigan. Dr. Figueroa has previous testifying experience, is highly skilled in project management, communication, and technical writing, and has extensive experience in public speaking.

Dr. Figueroa has analyzed and explained whether a person's capabilities, limitations, and actions may or may not have contributed to accidents in a wide range of scenarios, such as vehicle, motorcycle, pedestrian, micro-mobility, train/railroad, and trucking accidents; alleged medical device or in-surgery injuries; industrial, occupational, and construction accidents; injuries associated with professional/consumer products, premises (i.e., slip, trip, and falls), amusement park rides, and heavy machinery (i.e., forklift, cranes, aerial work platforms). 

Dr. Figueroa has expertise in a wide range of Human Factors topics, including product safety and warnings, risk communication and hazards, driver and operator training and behavior, visibility and conspicuity, perceptual capabilities and limitations, and decision and motor control response times. Dr. Figueroa also has in-depth expertise in physical ergonomics and strength capabilities, particularly in the upper extremities.

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