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Bergen County

This was an action involving a plaintiff student at the defendant vocational/technical high school in which the plaintiff contended that the defendant school board failed to maintain a printing press used in class, resulting in the failure to discover that a safety clip which would prevent activation of the machine when the grating that acted as a guard was elevated out of position was missing. The plaintiff also contended that a co- defendant, a fellow student, negligently turned on the machine while he was attempting to remove paper that had jammed. Finally, the plaintiff included a products liability count, contending that the press, of a type often used in schools, was defectively designed in that the defendant failed to provide a key-lock-out that would necessitate the use of a key to activate the machine and provide greater control. The plaintiff contended that he suffered crush injuries and the traumatic amputation of the tip of the index finger on the non-dominant hand.

The plaintiff testified that after some paper jammed, he lifted the grate while the machine was off and that as he was attempting to remove the paper, the co-defendant student suddenly activated the press, resulting in the injury. The plaintiff contended that the defendant school board acted in a palpably unreasonable fashion in failing to properly maintain the press and contended that the school could point to no maintenance records. The plaintiff contended that a safety clip that was attached to the grate/guard would prevent activation if the grate were elevated and that the school’s alleged failure to properly inspect and maintain the device significantly contributed to the accident.

The defendant school contended that maintenance of the machine was performed. The defendant school board also contended that the plaintiff had been previously instructed to push in a particular knob before removing paper, which would also prevent activation and that his negligent failure to do so contributed to the happening of the accident. The teacher further contended that the plaintiff had been advised that on the day in question, two of his fellow students would actually run the device and that he should observe. The plaintiff and the two other students at this machine testified at trial. The student who turned the machine on concurred in the defendant school board’s position. The plaintiff and the non-party student denied that this position was accurate and contended that the plaintiff was assigned to work on the machine.

On the defective design county, the plaintiff’s expert engineer contended that a key-lock-out system in which a key would be required to activate the machine should have been supplied, especially in view of several points at which the press could be activated and maintained that such a key lock-out system would have provided greater control and minimize the chances of activation while another student’s hands were in the point of operation. The defendant manufacturer contended that the press complied with all standards and was safe. The defendant manufacturer maintained that in view of the presence of several interlock devices, including the devices which would automatically prevent activation if the grate was elevated, or the knob in question pushed in, it was clear that the machine was properly designed and that the design did not contribute to the happening of the accident.

The plaintiff’s hand surgeon related that the plaintiff suffered the traumatic amputation of the tip of the left, non-dominant index finger and that an attempt at a surgical reattachment was not successful. The physician contended that the plaintiff will permanently suffer some numbness and a loss of dexterity in the finger. The plaintiff contended that approximately three years before the incident, he had commenced serious study of the guitar. The plaintiff contended that he was an avid participant, would play while he watched TV and generally brought his guitar along with him. The plaintiff’s physician, who is himself a guitarist, maintained that although the plaintiff can continue to play, he is restricted to a significant degree in the extent that he will be able to improve his playing and the plaintiff contended that he has been deprived of significant enjoyment of life. The plaintiff maintained that this activity was particularly important to him and that the disability stemming from the inability to enjoy this activity was significant. The plaintiff contended that although he performs occasionally for payment, there are times that the pain prevents him from doing so.

The plaintiff also contended that he has difficulties with fine motor tasks. The jury found for the defendant manufacturer. They also found that the school district provided inadequate supervision, but that the supervision was not related to the accident. They further found that the school board acted in a palpably unreasonable manner in the maintenance of the machine and assessed 98% liability against the school district, 1% negligence against the defendant fellow student activating the press and 1% comparative negligence. They then rendered a gross award of $________, including $________ for pain and suffering and and $________ for disability and impairment. Plaintiffs’ expert engineer: Michael G. Natoli from Passaic. Plaintiff’s orthopedist: John Andronaco from Hackensack. Labrosse vs. Buma, et al. Docket no. L-________-88; Judge Isabel Stark, 7-91. Attorney for plaintiff: Gary Moore; Attorney for defendant school board: Edward Nesselquist; Attorney for defendant fellow student: Robert Kretzer; Attorney for exonerated manufacturer: Anthony Watkins.

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