Bill, I don’t believe that HANDLE used in this way is a legal term nor that your statement holds water (:>). But I’ll give you my take from my experience in the area of engineering and science requirement.
The term ‘handle,’ such as how much current can a circuit handle, or how much of a load can a support handle, what kind of temperature variations can the system handle, what kind of pressures can a chamber handle, usually means worst case. ‘Handle’ doesn’t generally apply to average conditions but to the extremes. So the argument usually boils down to what is a ‘reasonable’ worst case condition? Well, if my families life depends on it or the lives of the astronauts on the space shuttle depend on it, you want pretty stringent requirements. But cost always creeps into the mix, so that often the final result is a compromise between extreme caution and money. I’m not sure if the bridges in my area are designed to handle a 50 year flood, or the 100 year flood, but I hope its better than 25 year flood. In any case ‘handle’ to me means ‘really handle,’ and that means we’re not talking about run-of-the-mill-conditions, but extreme ones, worst-case, or a hefty percentage of worst-case.
A compromise we made on the first space station, for example, was to design to what was called 90%-worst-case conditions for cosmic rays. That is, we had to design the electronics to be able to survive and function, not in the absolute worst-case conditions imaginable (found by studying the records of solar storms, etc. as far back as we had records), but to 90% of worst case – the 90% being the compromise. Perhaps if we only had robots on board, such as in the recent Mars missions, the design could have been relaxed to handle less stringent conditions – perhaps 60% worst case, for example.
Now, as far as your pump having to handle the flood of the century, that’s debatable. It seems to me the issue here would boil down to what you are selling and how you advertise it. If you are selling pumps usually you specify how many gallons/sec they can handle at maximum capacity and there wouldn’t normally be any guarantees about the size of floods they’re matched up against. On the other hand if you are selling a system that you advertise can ‘handle it’ or do the job, that would very much depend on what ‘handle it’ means. And if nothing specific is said, I would personally assume that it could handle worst-case conditions or a sizable fraction of it.
If it were me, I’d get a little more specific in the sale and say this pump will do the job under average conditions, but if you want one that can work in a 50-year flood, you’ll need a bigger pump that costs D more dollars, and if you want one that can work in a 100-year flood, that will be 2D more dollars. . . To say that the ‘pumps handle it’ is a vague statement open to different interpretations and sounds to me like a lawyer’s field day waiting to happen.
Last winter in my town we had a rash of commercial building roof collapses after a wet spring snow. There was a design specification of how many inches of wet snow a roof was supposed to handle. And it was a big insurance deal whether the actual snowfall did or did not exceed that number. A builder can’t just say ‘trust me, your roof will handle it.’ They were required in their contract to specify precisely what ‘handle it’ meant. Similarly in your case, saying ‘it can handle it’ seems to me to be so legally imprecise as to be useless. I say it means worst-case, you say average, and my bet a lawyer would say ‘oh boy!’ (<:)
Ken G – April 13
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)