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ARTICLE ID 9437

$________ GROSS Products Liability/Negligence - failure to place interlock on printing machine to prevent rollers from rotating when machine is open - alleged failure to advise employer as to proper method of cleaning - avulsion injury to hand.

U.S. DIST., Southern Dist. of NEW YORK

This was a products liability and negligence action in which the 26-year-old plaintiff contended that the printer/slotter machine manufactured by the defendant was defective in that it failed to incorporate an interlock device which would automatically prevent the rollers and the print cylinder form turning when the machine is opened for cleaning. The plaintiff further contended that the defendant failed to advise the plaintiff’s employer that the machine could be cleaned while it was closed. The plaintiff contended that as a result, the rag he was using as he was cleaning the rotating print cylinder became caught in the point of operation, drawing his dominant right hand into the pinch point.

The machine in question placed logos on and created slots in corrugated cardboard which was used for boxes. The evidence revealed that the customary practice at the plaintiff’s place of employment was to clean the machine with the internal mechanism exposed and that the plaintiff was not instructed to do otherwise. The plaintiff contended that in view of the fact that it was unnecessary for workers to contact internal moving parts when cleaning the machine, the defendant should have placed an interlock device which would prevent the rollers or cylinder from moving when the machine was opened. The plaintiff also contended that the defendant manufacturer should have advised the plaintiff’s employer that the machine could be cleaned with an automatic washing device. The plaintiff further maintained that the defendant should have installed an automatic stop bar in the immediate vicinity of the point of operation, which would permit the operator to immediately shut down the cylinder if a problem developed. The plaintiff contended that he sustained an avulsion of the hand in which an extensive amount of skin was literally torn from the hand, requiring several skin grafting procedures.

The plaintiff sustained severe damage to the ligaments and oft tissue in the palm of the hand resulting in a 60% permanent loss of use of the thumb. The plaintiff, who indicated that he had worked in a factory setting most of his adult life, maintained that he could not return to factory work, and his physician contended that this disability is permanent. The plaintiff related that he obtained a three hour per day, part time job working light duty on an egg farm. The plaintiff claimed a future economic loss of $________.

The defendant named the employer as a third party defendant, contending that it was negligent in engaging in the work practice of allowing its employees to clean the machine when opened. The defendant further alleged that the employer modified the machine by placing rivets on the surface of the print cylinder upon which the rag became caught, thus causing the subject accident. The employer asserted that the sole causes of the accident were the comparative negligence of the plaintiff and the modifications made to the machine. The employer maintained, however, that since it was not named as a direct party defendant, it could not be held liable absent a determination that the defendant manufacturer was also liable. On the third day of trial, the defendant manufacturer stipulated, over vigorous objections by the third party defendant employer, that the product was defectively designed and the plaintiff agreed not to enforce more than 2% of any judgment obtained against the manufacturer. The defendant’s witness testified that the manufacturer was conceding only that it had contributed to the accident to the extent of 2%.

The jury found the defendant manufacturer 20% liable, the third party defendant employer 65% liable and the plaintiff 15% comparatively negligent. The jury returned a gross award of $________ including $________ for stipulated medical expenses, $________ for past lost earnings, $________ for future lost earnings, $________ for past pain and suffering and $________ for future pain and suffering.

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