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ARTICLE ID 41010

$________ - PRODUCT LIABILITY - DEFECTIVELY DESIGNED INDUSTRIAL DRILLING RIG - LACK OF MECHANISM TO SECURE DRILLING RODS IN PLACE - ROD SLIPS FROM MACHINE AND STRIKES PLAINTIFF - CONCUSSION - T2-T5 TRANSVERSE PROCESS FRACTURE - FRACTURES OF CLAVICLE, FEMUR AND BOTH ANKLES - LOSS OF SPLEEN.

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

This product liability action stemmed from a workplace accident in which the plaintiff was struck by a ________-pound drilling rod which slipped from a drilling machine designed and manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiff claimed the drilling machine was defectively designed in that it lacked a mechanism which would effectively hold the heavy drilling rods in place while not in use. The defendant argued that the machine was not defective and the accident resulted from operator error.

The male plaintiff was 29 years old at the time of the July 9, ________, accident. He was employed as a "driller’s helper" and was responsible for assisting an experienced operator of an industrial rock drill manufactured by the defendant.

The drilling rig was comprised of seven drilling rods or pipes arranged on a carousel. The carousel moves in and out of a drilling tower which is raised for use and lowered to a horizontal position for movement of the rig.

The plaintiff was assisting in the drilling of blast holes at a quarry on the day of the accident. He testified they had finished drilling one hole and he drove the rig to the next site at the instruction of the operator who was in the back of the machine.

When the plaintiff got out of the truck, a 25-foot steel drilling pipe separated from the rig and struck him.

The drill operator testified, when the last blast hole was completed, he properly stowed the carousel in the tower and lowered the tower to the horizontal position as was his regular practice. This witness had 25 years experience as a drill operator at the time of the accident. The plaintiff contended that the jostling of the rig during movement caused the drill rod to come out of its place on the carousel. When the tower started to raise again, the plaintiff claimed the loose rod slipped out and struck him.

The plaintiff’s mechanical engineer testified the drilling rig should have been designed with a safety mechanism to prevent the drill rods from becoming loose. He suggested an automatic pin system which would prevent turning of the carousel or a guard or bracket over the top plate opening.

The plaintiff’s physicians testified that the plaintiff sustained a concussion, fractured left clavicle and a resolved brachial plexus injury as a result of the accident. He also suffered spinal fractures at the T-2 through T-5 levels, bilateral ankle fractures, his left femur was broken in half and he sustained a ruptured spleen requiring an emergency splenectomy. The plaintiff has been left with an orthopedic rod in his femur and plates and screws in his right ankle.

The plaintiff has also been left with a large abdominal scar from the splenectomy and walks with a limp. He testified he can no longer participate in his favored activity of hunting and is concerned about his ability to interact with his one-year-old son.

The plaintiff contended he attempted to return to his previous employment, but was unable to perform his job duties and was forced to resign some two years postaccident. At the time of trial, the plaintiff was employed answering telephone calls for an automobile road service company. Testimony established the plaintiff previously earned $10 per hour as a driller’s helper and earns $8 per hour in his current employment. The plaintiff’s economist estimated the plaintiff’s total loss of past and future wages to be $________. The defendant argued that the operator of the drilling rig failed to store the carousel fully into the tower, leading to the accident. The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert and engineer both testified that the carousel contains a notch which sits over parts of the tower and, for the carousel to rotate, it would have had to jump out of the tower by five to six inches.

The defendant’s experts also testified that the carousel is positioned against a hydraulic cylinder and could not have jumped out without causing major damage to the rig. Witnesses testified that the drilling rig was not damaged after the accident.

The defendant’s experts opined that the operator did not store the carousel and lowered the tower into the horizontal position with the carousel fully extended. In this position, the defense contended the carousel could turn and would allow a rod to slip out.

The defense argued that a "J" lock on the rig, was designed to prevent the rod, in line with the top plate opening, from slipping out of place when the carousel was properly stored. The defendant’s experts also testified that the bracket proposed by the plaintiff’s expert was impractical and would inhibit the operation of the drilling rig. In addition, the defendant’s expert testified that the proposed bracket would invite danger, as workers would be forced to climb up and remove the bracket prior to operating the machine.

The jury found that the drilling machine was defectively designed and awarded the plaintiff $2.6 million in damages, including $________ to the plaintiff’s wife for her loss of consortium claim. The defendant’s posttrial motions were denied and the case is currently on appeal.

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