Materials Engineering

The Frozen Turnkey and The Plastic Grocery Bag

Case Synopsis: The plaintiff received a free turkey from a major supermarket chain. The bag had been vacuum packed in its own plastic bag, with a metal clip at the bottom. The package had been placed in a store T-Shirt design plastic bag by the check-out clerk before handing it over to the plaintiff. When the plaintiff was lifting the frozen turkey out of her vehicle, the store-supplied plastic bag tore at the seam in the bottom. The frozen turkey fell on her toe and caused injury. The plaintiff held the supermarket chain solely responsible for her injuries.

Expert Analysis: Microscopic examination showed that the bag exhibited the typical signs of failure of HDPE (high density polyethylene) film under overload conditions. The origin of the tear was at the seam where the two-layer thickness meets the four-layer thickness on the bottom of the bag, which is the weakest point in the bag’s design.

Laboratory experiments on exemplar bags failed at a load less than the frozen turkey in question (20.44 pounds) in a similar location and exhibiting similar features. It was evident that the store bags of the class used were under-designed for the load in question. Use of double bags, to build up thickness, is a common practice when a load is judged to be heavy.  However, this precaution was not observed in this instance. The failure of the bag, and hence the injury, was a direct result of negligence by the store in not double bagging the heavy turkey. The failure is the direct result of the store not training its employees to double bag heavy loads, such as this turkey, and/or to properly supervise employees to ensure compliance with instructions and standard procedures.

Result: Case settled.

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