There is a basic premise in plumbing engineering: When you sit on a water closet, it shouldn’t move. If it is a wall-hung water closet, it shouldn’t come off the wall.
This is a primary requirement in the plumbing code. The fixture standard and the hanger standard both are based on the fixture performing after it is installed.
So, when I received a call from an attorney in California, his legal case seemed like a no brainer. A physically challenged woman was using the handicapped water closet in Angels Stadium. During the use of the water closet, it came off the wall and severely injured the woman. He then mentioned that the woman weighed 325 pounds.
My response to her weight was, “So what!”
Code is Very ClearEven with someone who weighs 325 pounds, a water closet should never come off the wall. I went on to explain to him that the Uniform Plumbing Code, which is adopted by Anaheim, is very clear in requiring an owner to maintain their plumbing in a safe and sanitary manner. A water closet coming off the wall is not safe plumbing.
While assisting the attorney with this case, I thought it was the easiest legal case I have ever encountered. Everyone agreed that the water closet came off the wall when being used prior to the start of an Angels game. Everyone agreed that the woman was taken to the hospital by the ambulance. Everyone agreed that she sustained injuries.
I considered the case a “slam dunk.” Angels Stadium is responsible, according to the Plumbing Code, to maintain safe and sanitary plumbing. The water closet was not maintained as safe and sanitary, resulting in a woman being injured. Now it was just a matter of settling on the financial responsibilities of Angels Stadium. That is something you let the attorneys argue.
Then I found out that the defense was not going to settle the case. They were going to take it to trial. I was dumbfounded and could not figure out what they could argue against a very clear requirement in the Plumbing Code.
What I forgot was that everyone also agreed that the woman weighed approximately 325 pounds. She was overweight. The defense was going to play the “fat” card. One of the last remaining accepted prejudices in this country is against overweight people. We call them fat, obese, beached whales, a house, gross, disgusting, etc.
But how should a water closet and hanger perform when supporting a woman who weighs 325 pounds? ASME A112.19.2 requires every vitreous china water closet to withstand a load of 500 pounds. That load is applied to the front lip of a wall-hung water closet. This means that, when a person weighing more than 500 pounds sits on a water closet, it can still handle the load. A person sits on the front third of the water closet, not the front lip. Hence, every water closet should easily withstand the weight of a 325-pound person.
The hanger standard has a slightly different requirement. ASME A112.6.1 has a deflection test, with a load of 300 pounds. One might assume that a load greater than 300 pounds would cause the hanger to fail. However, that is not true.
The deflection test is not determining the failure point of a hanger, but the maximum permitted deflection at a given load. The maximum deflection at the end of the water closet is 0.375 inches. That is not much for a hanger at a 300-pound load.
You may be wondering why the water closet failed. Normally you can determine why by examining the water closet and hanger after the failure. However, that was not possible in this case because Angels Stadium immediately disposed of the water closet. During its discovery, they admitted that four or five other water closets have come off the wall, but simply attributed that to vandalism.
A Recipe for DisasterWhile vandalism is one possibility, there are other possibilities. There could be a crack, or dunt, in the vitreous china that weakens and eventually causes the failure of the china. There could be a poorly installed hanger. Or there could be an out-of-tolerance water closet.
When a water closet is installed on a hanger, the bowl must rest on the studs of the hanger. This may seem obvious, but if the bolt holes on the water closet are out of tolerance, it may not be possible for the water closet to sit on the studs. When not properly installed, or if the bolt holes are out of tolerance, the water closet is still being supported by the horn on the drainage connection. This is a recipe for disaster.
If it is a cast iron horn, eventually the vitreous china will fracture. If it is a plastic horn, the water closet will leak, and maybe fracture, depending on the installation.
Getting back to the 325-pound woman, every water closet should easily accommodate a woman of this weight. It is also understood by the fixture manufacturers that a physically challenged person normally plops onto a water closet. The fixture and hanger can still handle this “plopping” of a 325-pound person. Something was wrong at Angels Stadium, and the water closet was not being maintained in a safe and sanitary manner.
I am often asked how I check a wall-hung water closet. I respond that I stand on the front lip of the water closet and bounce a little bit. The bowl shouldn’t move. I weigh only 185 pounds (most of the time), and the bowl and hanger should easily pass this test.
This didn’t stop the defense from basically accusing the woman of being too heavy. After all, didn’t thousands of other people use that particular water closet without it coming off the wall? It only came off the wall when she sat on the bowl so it must have been her fault - the insinuation being that if she weighed less, the bowl wouldn’t have failed.
The defense said that the stadium had no way to determine that a bowl was going to come off the wall when an overweight person sat down upon it. They followed normal procedures in plumbing maintenance. They looked at the fixture; if it looked good, they went on to the next one.
The jury came back with a verdict in favor of the stadium. It was the woman’s fault she got hurt. She was too “fat.” I was dumbfounded.
When I have mentioned this case, the response I’ve received has been mixed. Some cannot believe that the jury did not find in favor of the woman. Others thought that the woman owed Angels Stadium money for destroying their water closet. After all, she was overweight.