FURNITURE INDUSTRY AND SEATING EXPERTISE
Leonard J. Backer Associates LLC
MATERIALS PRODUCED AND WRITTEN BY LEONARD J. BACKER 1987 - 2008
"Residential Seating is Not Safe Enough for Commercial or Hospitality Use"
Written by Leonard J. Backer Published October 2, 2019
Many restaurants, independent hotels and timeshare resorts have much tighter budgets these days when it comes to purchasing seating for their properties. At the same time, there seem to be many “attractive” options available for their chairs, bar stools and benches. For example, there are many online seating sources and retailer showrooms which offer somewhat trendy designs, at very affordable prices.
BUT BUYERS BEWARE…
Our expert witness firm, being retained throughout the country to support all sides of chair related injury cases, has seen far too many serious incidents directly caused by the end users and even some of their outside interior designers, furniture dealers or purchasing firms, making poor budget driven decisions, when selecting seating products.
Many people consider seating as somewhat of a commodity item, i.e. it’s made of wood or metal, has arms or is armless and has four legs with a seat and back. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Safe commercial or hospitality seating design involves many critical steps between initial drawings, engineering, testing, production and delivery to the end user location.
One major consideration when it comes to determining if seating will be safe for long term commercial or hospitality use is proper frame engineering and performance testing. The difference between residential and commercial furniture can be condensed down into a few simple points. How many times will a chair be used in someone’s kitchen over a period of 5 to 10 years…versus how many times it will be used in that same 5 to 10 years in a restaurant, hotel or timeshare resort? And not only the continuous customer heavy use, but also the continual moving around, cleaning and maintenance processes to which this seating will be subjected.
It is basically all about construction and technical specifications. Designing, manufacturing and evaluating commercial or hospitality seating cannot be done on a quick “hit or miss” type basis. The persons or entities responsible for producing, marketing and selecting commercial seating MUST HAVE the proper hands-on knowledge, field performance experience and technical expertise to confidently offer safe and durable seating to assure a reasonable level of safety for the intended range of end users (i.e. sizes, ages, weights, levels of mobility) and specifically how the seating will be actually used and maintained over time.
Commercial seating must be built with heavier duty materials, which will of course cost more than lighter weight, thinner materials (whether it is wood or metal). Assuring the ongoing safety of your customers requires that these various factors be seriously evaluated before making the final specification and purchasing decisions.
We have unfortunately been involved in too many cases where decision makers for commercial or hospitality businesses were not properly qualified or did not have enough hands-on seating experience to truly determine which products would offer their customers a reasonable degree of ongoing safety while on their premises.
Personal Injury Litigation: Safe Seating and Table Design Is Not "Rocket Science"
Written by Leonard J. Backer Published March 9, 2017
Having worked with attorneys in over 40 injury cases related to chairs (wood, metal, fully upholstered, plastic, aluminum, swivel, fixed mounted, outdoor), dining tables, occasional tables, bar stools, booths and banquettes; I felt the need to try and "clear the air" and save substantial time and resources for both plaintiff and defense sides moving forward.
It's relatively simple and straightforward... after spending 28 years learning, observing and directly participating in all areas of seating and table design, shoulder to shoulder with some of the world's leading product designers (both domestically and overseas) we do not work with scientists or engineers in almost all instances.
However, when I am questioned by the other side in litigation, they invariably focus on demanding to know which scientific principles, science textbooks, engineering manuals, professional licenses, certifications or national laws specifically cover and spell out the exact minimum scientific standards that must be met to safely and legally design and manufacture chairs and tables.
When I continually respond that such scientific or mathematical formulas or equations do not exist, they become somewhat hostile and continue to insist that I provide the specific scientific and engineering texts, from some mythical, universally accepted "bible" for designing safe chairs and tables. Let me state very clearly that this "chair and table design bible" does not exist.
There are literally thousands of new or modified seating, table top and table base designs and configurations specified and produced each year around the globe. In addition, the materials, dimensions, intended use and price points for each chair, table top and table base are different for almost every design and development project.
Seating and table design are unique disciplines and cannot be gleaned from any textbooks or specific college, engineering or graduate school degrees. The only way to learn all aspects of proper seating and table design, construction and performance is to spend years working right alongside experienced and successful product designers and factory resources, from the initial concept rendering stage, through the entire prototyping process; then coordinating with the component suppliers, performing site inspections and ultimately making sure the products are properly manufactured for their targeted markets, intended use and specific types of customers. All of this can only be observed, learned and mastered in a "real world environment".
In the cases where I have been designated as a furniture expert, and the opposing side has retained some type of engineer or scientifically oriented person, (usually having some advanced degree and/or engineering certifications) most of the time, this other supposed seating and table "expert" has never been directly involved in designing and developing a safe, viable chair or table for end user markets such as hotels, casinos, restaurants, cruise lines, bars and lounges, retail store planning, senior living, university or residential environments.
In one recent case, the opposing side (a well-known insurance company) retained an engineer to analyze the facts of the case and the subject chair, and to write his expert report accordingly. When I read his report, it was obvious that this engineer knew nothing about seating design or the hotel guestroom environment where this incident occurred. He had simply gone to Google Search and entered some key words or phrases, he was then referred to various other sites and links; he referenced some tests and other related facts that he found, which had absolutely nothing to do with the subject armless wood chair.
After completing my detailed site inspection with the subject chair, then submitting my expert report, I was deposed and pointed out to the defense attorney the glaring errors and lack of any experience that this engineer had, in designing or developing not a single chair in his entire career; the defense quickly offered to settle the case. Hopefully this brief article can serve to educate and add value to both the plaintiff and defense sides for decision making and strategic discussions before going into future litigation.
"Pay More Attention to the Chairs"
Written by Leonard J. Backer Published May 31, 2015
Link to article: www.experts.com
When you walk into a restaurant, lounge, hotel lobby, mall food court, medical office waiting room, university dining hall or almost any commercial facility for the first time; a substantial part of the “image” and your overall perception of that location and business, is shaped by the aesthetic design and condition of the seating.
Most people think of chairs, bar stools and lounge seating as a “commodity type item”, i.e. products which are developed, designed and manufactured in a generally similar manner. Nothing is farther from the truth.
Among the many thousands of seating designs produced and installed all over the world each year, there are critical differences beyond just the overall look and aesthetic design of the chair and its cost. Seating design is a very unique discipline encompassing a wide range of interconnected analyses and thought processes:
- Into what type of location will these chairs be installed?
- What functionality needs to be integrated into the design? (i.e. stacking, easily moveable on casters, flexible back)
- What is the targeted selling price range?
- What is the optimal material to utilize for this design? (i.e. wood, plastic, steel tube, aluminum, resin, molded foam)
- What types of customers will be using this seating?
- Will the seating need to be small, medium or large scale?
- What is the targeted level of comfort? (i.e. not very much for 15-20 minute food court use versus extremely comfortable for a 2 hour meal in a 5 star restaurant)
- Will this be a normal commercial use environment (like a bank or corporate office) or an “intensive use” application, i.e. 24/7 three shifts per day continuous use, university dormitory, casino, etc…?
- What approach will be used for the construction and engineering aspects of the seating?
- How much of the reinforcing construction needs to be hidden versus exposed?
- What is the targeted “personality” of the chair? (i.e. contoured and curved, thin line, more angular and squared, thicker stock)
- After taking all of the above points into consideration, the chair components now need to be individually designed and engineered, sourced and then integrated into a proper manufacturing process, qualified factory operation with strong quality control procedures.
- Prior to final order approval, the business owner should evaluate an actual sample chair under the exact same conditions and in the specific location of the final installation. For example, if the chair is being used in a hotel lobby on thick pile carpet, the sample chair needs to be placed and thoroughly evaluated in the specific intended environment, using people of various ages and sizes; simulating actual normal use conditions.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN WHEN THE SEATING FIRST ARRIVES AT THE INTENDED LOCATION?
This is where the potential financial and legal exposure comes into sharper focus.
Upon delivery the end user must closely inspect each chair, making sure there is no visible damage, i.e. cracked frame elements, legs, seat rails, all joints and connection points are tight and flush, glides properly affixed to the bottom of each leg, etc… If any of these issues arise, the end user must immediately go on record with the manufacturer and follow through for correction, repair or replacement if necessary.
In commercial use applications, any of these initially non-inspected defects can manifest themselves in a sudden and potentially serious accident or catastrophic failure involving a customer.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE ON A CONTINUING BASIS?
First, the manufacturers’ care, maintenance and recommended inspection procedures must be read, clearly understood and then become part of the location’s training process and written operational procedures. The manufacturer will publish this important information either on the labels affixed under each chair and/or in their price list terms and conditions.
Normally in a commercial use situation, all chairs should be closely visually inspected once a month to make sure that all frame joints are tight and flush, with no visible cracks or abnormal separations. Underneath the seat and the legs (along with any stretchers) should also be inspected. The glides should all be properly affixed to the bottom of each leg as well. This regular inspection process is vital to maintaining the stability and overall safety of all seating.
The chairs should be sat in to make sure there is no wobble or cracking type sounds. Also, to make sure the seats and/or backs are firmly attached. Any chairs showing a potential defect should be immediately removed from service and the specific issues repaired or replaced according to the manufacturer’s service procedures and warranty.
It is also important for the business to maintain a very simple record or log of these inspections. This type of documentation can be important if any accident or injury claims arise.
Having been involved from both the plaintiff and defense perspectives with all types of personal injury and litigation claims over the past 28 years, involving all types of seating designs, widely varying installations, distinctly different usage patterns and end customers of all ages, shapes and sizes throughout the U.S.; the best advice to all business owners and on-site management is to PAY MORE ATTENTION TO THE CHAIRS.
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