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ARTICLE ID 31116

- PRODUCTS LIABILITY - NEGLIGENT DESIGN AND BREACH OF WARRANTY - ALLEGEDLY UNSAFE ADHESIVE SPREADER MACHINE - SEVERE DEGLOVING INJURY TO LEFT NON-DOMINANT HAND SUFFERED BY PLAINTIFF OPERATOR WHILE CLEANING MACHINE AT END OF SHIFT - LOSS OF RING FINGER.

Hampden County, Mass.

This was a products liability action brought by the female plaintiff, in her early 20’s, who was injured in the course of her employment while in the process of cleaning glue off the rollers of a single top, adhesive spreader machine manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiff contended that the machine was unreasonably dangerous as designed in that it lacked adequate guarding and was equipped with an unsafe emergency stop bar. The plaintiff’s cause of action proceeded on theories of negligent design and breach of warranty. The plaintiff contended that as a result of the unsafe design of the machine, her hand became caught in the nip point between two rollers, resulting in a severe degloving injury to her left non-dominant hand with the loss of her ring finger.

The subject accident occurred in October, ________, while the plaintiff was working in the course of her employment as a machine operator at a paper company in Holyoke, Mass. The machine upon which she was working at the time of the accident was a single top adhesive, or glue spreader, containing a series of rollers which spreads the glue onto cardboard. The in-running nip points created where the rollers meet were protected by barrier guards during normal operation of the machine. At the end of the shift, the operator must clean the adhesive off the rollers. The evidence indicated that the table upon which the cardboard material slid out of the machine was approximately waist high.

The cardboard travels through the in-running nip point area between the top and bottom rollers and a reservoir of glue is situated between the rollers. The glue flows downward as the rollers turn and the glue is automatically applied to the cardboard as it travels through the rollers.

At the time of the accident, the plaintiff had finished operating the machine and was in the process of cleaning the rollers. The plaintiff was situated to the rear of the machine sitting side saddle on the conveyer belt with her body situated inside the emergency control bar while reaching up to clean the top rollers.

The plaintiff had removed the barrier guards to allow the cleaning of the rollers. While situated in this rather awkward position, the plaintiff leaned back and inadvertently activated the emergency stop bar by pushing it backwards, automatically reversing the rollers and causing her hand to be pulled into the in-running nip point between the rollers. The evidence indicated that at the time of the accident, the warning label present on the machine specifically advised not to remove the guards while the machine is running and the clean-up instructions present on the machine specifically stated that it was unnecessary to remove the guards during the cleaning process.

The plaintiff’s engineering expert testified that the machine as designed was defective in two respects. Firstly, he stated that the emergency stop bar was unsafe in that it served not only to automatically cut the power to the machine when pushed, but would also re-activate the machine when pulled back. In the plaintiff’s case, because she was situated inside the emergency stop bar rather than at the normal point of operation, she was able to easily activate the machine in reverse by pushing the bar back.

The plaintiff’s expert further maintained that the machine was unsafe in that it lacked interlock devices on its barrier guards to prevent activation of the machine upon removal of the guards.

The defendant’s engineering expert countered that the machine was perfectly safe for all expected uses that the emergency stop guard was properly designed to automatically shut down the machine in the event the operator were unexpectedly pulled into the rollers and to reverse the rollers to permit extrication in the unlikely event of such an accident. The defendant’s expert testified that subsequent modifications of the machine undertaken by the employer created the danger which caused the plaintiff’s injury. Specifically, the defense expert maintained that to accommodate the assembly line, the machine was elevated above the floor on 18 inch blocks to be used in conjunction with a permanently affixed conveyer belt. Because of the placement of the conveyer belt, the operator was precluded from standing behind the machine, requiring that the operator sit side saddle on the conveyer belt inside the emergency stop bar and reach up to clean the rollers, as the plaintiff was positioned at the time of the accident. The defense offered evidence of a subsequent remedial measure undertaken by the employer following the subject accident involving the erection of a platform equivalent in height to the 18 inch blocks upon which the machine was originally elevated by the employer. The defendant had the plaintiff stand in front of a scale model of the identical machine upon which the plaintiff was injured to demonstrate that if set up properly, the plaintiff would not have to situate herself inside the emergency control bar to clean the rollers.

The defendant further contended that the plaintiff’s employer failed to properly train her concerning the proper manner of cleaning the rollers and in this regard, elicited testimony from the plaintiff to the effect that the employer had instructed her to remove the guard prior to cleaning the rollers.

The defendant’s engineering expert additionally stated that although interlocks were offered by the manufacturer as an option, when used in a hostile environment such as that presented in the subject situation based upon the particular use of the machine, adhesives could foul the machine if dedicated, thorough clean-up were not regularly performed, which could result in unexpected failure of the interlocks. The expert maintained, therefore, that the use of the interlocks in this particular situation could serve to create a false sense of security and thereby pose a greater risk of danger to operators.

The medical testimony established that the plaintiff sustained a severe degloving injury to the volar aspect of the left, non- dominant hand with a partial loss of the ring and middle fingers.

The plaintiff underwent multiple plastic surgeries and is left with a severe web scar on the palm of the hand and a 50% loss of function. The plaintiff returned to work and was retrained in another capacity at the same salary. The plaintiff presented $________ in medical specials. The jury found for the defendant.

Plaintiff’s engineering expert: Igor Paul from MIT. Defendant’s engineering expert: Ralph Barnett from Chicago, Ill. Guilmette vs. The Black Bros. Co., Inc. Case no. 85-________; Judge Elizabeth Porada. Attorney for plaintiff: James R. Nolen of Ware, Ma.; Attorney for defendant: Charles Bergin of Robinson, Donovan, Madden & Barry in Springfield, Ma.

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