Re: The Lessons of ValuJet 592

Subject: Re: The Lessons of ValuJet 592
From: "Hutchings, Christa" <cwhutchings -at- HOMEWIRELESS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 29 May 1998 12:06:27 -0400

Jane Credland wrote:

>The documentation is a
>mitigation of the company's damages, but it's not going to exonerate
>from responsibility.

Absolutely! This all reminds me of something I read several years ago
about an Indian computer company that basically went belly-up due to a
wrongful death lawsuit "attributed to documentation."

Apparently this company had a great product for an excellent price, and
had been very well received in test markets. Industry analysts predicted
that the company would do very well in the U.S. and it was poised to
make a big splash here.

Unfortunately, soon after the product release, a pregnant woman
electrocuted herself and her 5-month fetus when she inadvertently drove
a screwdriver into the unit while installing a board. Now, this woman
was a trained computer professional, but made the mistake of opening up
the unit on her living room floor. As she knelt over the unit with a
screwdriver, her 3-year child jumped on her back, knocking her forward
and driving the screwdriver into the unit. The woman and her fetus were
killed and the 3-year old injured. The woman's husband sued the company
and won millions, effectively driving the company out of the U.S. market
and (I believe) into bankruptcy.

The plaintiff's lawyer convinced the jury that the company was negligent
regarding design safety, using as his primary example the fact that the
product manual looked like a comic book (a design that had actually
received accolades for its innovative approach). There were other
arguments also, but the jury found for the plaintiff on the basis that
the company's comic book style manual created a false sense of security
in customers and encouraged a nonchalant attitude toward standard safety

I don't remember if only the company was sued or if the tech writers
were also named as individuals in the lawsuit, but it sure makes me
think twice about putting my name in a manual!

Chris Welch-Hutchings
Sr. Technical Writer
Home Wireless Networks, Inc.
Norcross GA (USA)
mailto:cwhutchings -at- homewireless -dot- com

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