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$________ - Wrongful death - Strict products liability - Workplace negligence - Failure to warn - Piece of die from punch machine strikes decedent in the heart, killing him - 42-year-old decedent survived by spouse and three minor children.

Los Angeles County, California

The decedent was working on a punch press which was jammed when the machine started and a piece of the punch splintered off. The splintered off piece struck the decedent in the chest, resulting in his death.

The plaintiffs contended strict liability for defective design, manufacture and distribution of the press. The plaintiffs also contended that the defendant employer removed and/or modified a guard, which created a dangerous condition and neglected to warn about it. The defendants contended that the decedent was aware of the proper procedures and safety measures, but failed to observe them, thereby causing his own demise.

The decedent was a 42-year-old experienced maintenance mechanic who was a member of the union. He was employed by defendant Bickerton Industries a little less than one year at the time of the incident.

On August 23, ________, the decedent, Mr. Hernandez, was attempting to repair a jam in a MUBEA Universal Ironworker punch press machine.

Mr. Hernandez had removed the front housing access plate on the punch press in order to clear the jam. The back of the access plate had "gibs" or guides that kept the punch in proper alignment. With the housing off, the machine cycled, causing the punch to misalign and hit the inner lip of the die. Upon impact, the punch splintered and shot a piece of metal like a bullet into Mr. Hernandez’s chest.

The operator of the machine had walked away while Mr. Hernandez was working on the machine and it was uncertain: (1) whether the decedent himself activated the press, thinking that the jam would retract to the up position; or (2) whether he intentionally cycled the machine to see if the jam had been cleared; or (3) the press cycled on its own after the jam released. Workers in the area heard a yell and found the decedent lying on the floor, fatally wounded. The decedent was rushed to the hospital. However, surgical procedures could not repair the damage to his heart and he died four hours after the incident.

The widow and children of Mr. Hernandez sued the German manufacturer of the punch press, Muhr & Bender, and the U.S. distributor of the press, E.G. Heller’s Son, Inc. The plaintiffs alleged strict liability for the defective design of the punch press and for failing to warn, either on the punch press itself or in any of the operating manuals, that removal of the housing plate would cause misalignment of the punch. In addition, the plaintiffs contended that these defendants were negligent in failing to provide appropriate operating and maintenance instructions.

The plaintiffs also brought suit against the decedent’s employer under ’________ of the Labor Code in California which provides an exception to the exclusive workers’ compensation remedy scheme. ’________ permits an employee or his or her heirs to bring suit against an employer that either knowingly removes or knowingly fails to install a point of operation guard on a power press. There were no notices or warnings posted anywhere on the machine or in the area of the machine warning against operation of the machine while the access plate was removed.

Newer models have a built-in safety feature which prevents operation while the plate is removed. Such was not the case with the machine in question, since it was an older machine.

Mr. Hernandez was survived by his 40-year-old wife and three minor children. The plaintiffs alleged past lost earnings of $________, future lost earnings of $________ (present value) and noneconomic damages in the amount of $________.

The defendants countered that there was no defect in the design, manufacture or distribution of the press. Further, the defendants contended that Mr. Hernandez was well aware that the machine was not to be operated without the guard in place. The defendants contended that there was adequate notice, warnings and training provided regarding the machine and they were not negligent for the happening of the incident. Rather, the defendants contended that it was the decedent who improperly restarted the machine with the guard off and caused his own demise. The defendants alleged that it was the decedent who was negligent in that he ignored the proper safety procedures and warnings and failed to take proper precautions. The defendants contended that the cause of the decedent’s death was solely due to the decedent’s own actions and omissions.

The matter was mediated before the Honorable Victor T. Barrera on January 20, ________, and settled thereafter and prior to trial. The recovery was in the sum of $________, which consisted of a waiver of the workers’ compensation lien of $________ and $________. The $________ was distributed against the employer in the amount of $________; the American distributor in the amount of $________ and the manufacturer in the amount of $________.

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