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U.S. Dist., Southern

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 the defendant failed to incorporate an interlock device which would automatically prevent the rollers and the print cylinder from turning when the machine is opened for cleaning, and further failed to advise the 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 was caught in the point of operation, drawing his dominant right hand in. The defendant named the employer as a third party defendant, contending that it should not have engaged in the work practice of having its employees clean the machine when open, which was not necessary, and further contending that the employer had modified the machine by placing rivets on the surface of the print cylinder on which the rag became caught, causing the injury. The third party defendant employer conceded modifying the machine. The employer maintained, however, that the sole causes of the incident were the comparative negligence of the plaintiff and the modifications it had made, and contended that since it was not named as a direct party defendant, it could not be held liable in the absence of a determination that the defendant manufacturer was also liable.

The machine in question placed logos and created slots on corrugated cardboard which was used for boxes. The defendant manufacturer indicated that the rollers and print cylinder could be cleaned automatically when the machine was closed with the use of a provided automatic washing device. The evidence revealed that the employees would customarily 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 evidence that the workers did not have to contact the internal moving parts, the defendant should have placed an interlock device which would prevent the rollers or cylinder from moving if the machine was opened. The plaintiff also contended that the defendant manufacturer should have advised the employer that the machine could be cleaned with the automatic washing device. The plaintiff further contended that the defendant should have placed an automatic stop bar in the immediate vicinity which would permit a worker to immediately shut down the cylinder if a problem developed.

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 and defendant manufacturer agreed that the plaintiff would not 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 plaintiff contended that he sustained an avulsion of the hand in which an extensive amount of skin was literally torn from the hand and that he required several skin graft procedures. The plaintiff maintained that he sustained severe damage to the ligaments and soft tissue in the palm of the hand which would permanently cause a 60% loss of use of the thumb. The plaintiff, who indicated 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 at light duty on an egg farm in Conn., and the plaintiff’s physician contended that such a limitation was consistent with the injury. The plaintiff maintained that he will sustain future economic losses in excess of $________.

The plaintiff further contended that although he obtained a relatively good cosmetic result, the moderate deformity of the hand will remain permanently. The plaintiff indicated that although he does not generally suffer pain during the day when he is active, the injury causes pain when he attempts to sleep, and that the injury has greatly interfered with his ability to sleep.

The plaintiff further contended that he has been forced to give up favored recreational activities such as golf and bowling. The jury found the defendant manufacturer 20% liable, the third party defendant employer 65% liable, the plaintiff 15% comparatively negligent, and rendered a gross award of $________, including $________ for stipulated medical costs, $________ for past lost earnings, $________ for future lost earnings, $________ for past pain and suffering, and $________ for future pain and suffering.

Plaintiff’s orthopedist: Thomas Siffert from Manhattan.

Plaintiff’s expert engineer: Daniel Burdett from Manhattan, Defendant manufacturer’s expert engineer: Peter Schwalje from Edison, N.J. Milton vs. Mollins Machine Co., Inc. vs. T.G.B., Inc. Civil Action no. 86-Civ-________; Judge Robert P. Patterson, 3- 1-89. Attorney for plaintiff: Thomas A. Stickel of Manhattan; Attorney for defendant manufacturer: Robert McDonell of Kroll & Tract in Manhattan; Attorney for third party defendant: Robert Lefland of Granik, Silverman, et al. in New City, N.Y.

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