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Union County, NJ

This action involved a plaintiff, who was 79 years old at the time of the incident, in which the plaintiff contended that the defendant rental company supplied a log splitter, which was defectively designed because of the absence of a "cradle" that would prevent the wood from shifting. The plaintiff, who was assisting the co-defendant, his neighbor, who was operating the device, reached to steady the wood as it appeared to shift and his right hand was struck by the mechanism and caught in the pinch point formed between the log and end-plate. The plaintiff also maintained that inadequate warnings were provided, and further named the neighbor, who had a $________ homeowner’s policy on a negligence theory, and this aspect settled for $________ more than one year before the settlement of the case against the rental company. The plaintiff suffered the traumatic amputation of two and one half fingers on his right, dominant hand, maintaining that he will permanently experience difficulties with everyday tasks, such as buttoning a shirt. Prior to the incident, the plaintiff had provided very significant care to his wife, who was ill. He also contended that the log splitter should have been equipped with a safety “cradle,” which is designed to stabilize the log being split, thereby, preventing it from falling off the log splitter. The plaintiff supported that he observed the log appearing to shift reached to steady it with his hand, resulting in the incident. The plaintiff’s engineer also maintained that the machine should have had a legible safety warning, which would have alerted both the co-defendant and the plaintiff of the need to read an operating manual. The plaintiff pointed out that the defendant also failed to provide an operator’s manual.

The plaintiff’s engineer maintained that such a cradle was readily available, and that the machine should have been so equipped. The plaintiff’s engineer also maintained that the warnings should have advised that only one individual use the machine at a time, explaining that if only one person was operating the relatively long machine, the hand could not reach the point of operation if a log appeared to shift. The plaintiff’s expert maintained that such warnings should have been supplied. The plaintiff and the owner indicated that no warning labels were on the machine when rented. The evidence disclosed that the defendant rental company had two machine which were identical, except that one had a partially obscured label. The defendant rental company records did not reflect which machine was rented to the co-defendant. The plaintiff’s engineer inspected both machines.The plaintiff argued that the need for such warning was underscored by the fact that a label was on one of the machines, and argued that the product was defective for failure to warn, irrespective of the machine that was actually rented. The plaintiff also argued that in this design defect/failure to warn case in which the plaintiff was injured by the very danger which should have been referred to in the warnings, a defense of comparative negligence should not be available, notwithstanding that the incident did not occur while the plaintiff was in a workplace setting. There was no judicial ruling on this issue prior to the settlement. The plaintiff suffered crush fractures and the traumatic amputation of significant portions of two and one half middle fingers on the dominant hand, undergoing surgery that included debridement, the surgical amputation of fragments of the middle finger, and the use of wires to address fractures. The plaintiff maintained that he will permanently suffer pain that is heightened during cold weather, and that everyday tasks, such as buttoning a shirt, are cumbersome and difficult.

The plaintiff also contended that he is limited in the extent to which he continue to provide day to day assistance to his wife, who is ill. The plaintiff also testified that he is very embarrassed as a result of the cosmetic deficit, and that such embarrassment is heightened when he is called upon to shake hands.The case against the rental company settled in 9-14 for $________, yielding a total recovery of $________, including the policy limit recovery with the defendant neighbor’s homeowners’ carrier.

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