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ARTICLE ID 41292

$________ - PRODUCTS LIABILITY - FAILURE TO ADEQUATELY GUARD PRINTING PRESS - AVULSION INJURY TO THUMB.

U.S. Dist., Eastern

The plaintiff, age 18 at the time of the incident and 21 at trial, contended that the printing press manufactured by the defendant in ________ was defective in that the defendant failed to incorporate a guard in the area of rapidly rotating shafts. The plaintiff contended that as a result, he suffered a severe degloving injury to the thumb and minor injury to the tips of the ring and middle finger on his non-dominant hand. The plaintiff related that he was standing on a slightly elevated step of the press and that when someone called his name, he turned, causing his hand to brush against one of the rapidly rotating shafts. The plaintiff maintained that it was likely that his hand had contacted the second shaft approximately two inches from the first shaft and that his thumb then became caught in a nip point situated under this second shaft which was created by an oscillating lever.

The plaintiff’s expert engineer contended that the area surrounding the shafts should have been guarded. The defendant contended that the area of the shafts was safe in the absence of a guard and contended that there was sufficient distance between the shafts to obviate any hazard. The plaintiff contended that in view of the extensive speed at which the shaft was rotating, the forces from the initial shaft could well result in the hand contacting the second shaft and the injury occurring. The defendant further established that in his deposition, the plaintiff had indicated that his thumb had contacted the adjacent rollers. The defendant, which established that the manufacturer had guarded the rollers, contended that the employer had modified the machine by removing the guard.

The defendant further contended that in a statement given to the employer shortly after the accident, which was signed by the plaintiff, he indicated that his hand contacted the rollers after it slipped from its resting place. The plaintiff, who indicated that he did not recall the contents of this statement taken several days after the accident, contended that he may well have been inaccurate in the deposition and the prior statement because of difficulties recalling the details of such a traumatic incident. The plaintiff testified during direct testimony that he had refreshed his recollection upon subsequently speaking with the individual who came to his assistance. The plaintiff presented this co-employee who contended that he took the machine apart to extract the plaintiff’s thumb and that the incident had not involved the area of the rollers. The witness also testified that it took him some 45 minutes to free the plaintiff while he disassembled the machine after it was stopped. The plaintiff’s expert contended that the defendant should have incorporated an interlock device which would have prevented the press from operating in the event the employer removed the guard surrounding the rollers and the plaintiff argued that even if the incident had occurred in the rollers, the injury stemmed from a defect.

The plaintiff’s expert further maintained that although the press had been manufactured in ________, guarding of such devices have been feasible since the 19th century. The plaintiff’s expert also pointed to an engineering text written in the ________’s, which he maintained was authoritative, contending that guarding in such areas was recommended.

The plaintiff’s treating hand surgeon related that the plaintiff sustained a severe degloving injury which ran from the base of the thumb to the first knuckle and indicated that the rapidly oscillating lever under the shaft had only contacted this area of the base, sparing the tip of the thumb. The physician contended that most of the soft tissue in the thumb had avulsed and that extensive scar tissue formed, resulting in the thumb adhering to the index finger. The physician related that the plaintiff had initially lost the pinching functioning of the hand. The hand surgeon testified that surgery was performed in which scar tissue was removed and related that in order to provide functioning to the thumb, he had performed a procedure in which one of two tendons in the ring finger was cut at the base of the finger and threaded through the hand and into the thumb. The physician indicated that the surgery, which caused a minor deficit to the ring finger, was successful and that with intensive physical therapy, the plaintiff had regained most of the use of the thumb.

The physician contended, however, that the plaintiff will permanently suffer some weakness in the hand and that the moderate remaining cosmetic injury will be present permanently.

The physician further indicated that because the tendon which was re-routed into the thumb was surrounded by scar tissue and the likelihood of the formation of additional scar tissue, a future tendon release may well be necessary. The physician related that the traumatic injuries to the tips of the ring and middle finger which occurred in the accident had essentially resolved. The plaintiff has returned to his former position and made no future economic claims. The plaintiff introduced evidence of special damages of approximately $________. The jury found for the plaintiff an awarded $________. Plaintiff’s expert engineer: Fred Blum from Phila. Plaintiff’s expert hand surgeon: James Hunter from Phila. Grayo vs. Harris Corp. Civil Action no. 89/________; Judge John P. Fullam, 5-8-90. Attorney for plaintiff: Joseph Chaiken; Attorney for defendant: John Penders.

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