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Alleged defective design of shearing machine manufactured in ________'S - failure to install braking mechanism to reduce cycling time of cutting blade after shut-off - traumatic amputation of finger.


In this products liability action brought by the plaintiff owner/operator of a scrap metal business who, at the time of the accident, was operating his neighbor’s shearing machine which had been manufactured by the defendant in the ________’s. The plaintiff contended that the machine was defectively designed in that it failed to incorporate a braking mechanism which would serve to reduce the cycling of the blade to 10 seconds after the power was shut-off.

The machine in question was used to shear large pieces of scrapyard metal and operates on a momentum principle. The machine is set in motion by an electrical engine which starts the spinning of the flywheel, which in turns raises and lowers the top blade. The bottom blade remains fixed. At the time of the accident, the machine was set so that top blade was geared down to move slower than the flywheel. When the power is cut off, the flywheel continues to turn and the top blade continues to move for a period of time until the momentum dissipates. On the day of the accident, the plaintiff had been working on the machine for two hours. He then shut the machine off and commenced picking up pieces of metal around the cutting area while the blade was still moving. The plaintiff contacted the moving blade with his work glove, which caught on his right ring finger, traumatically amputating it. The plaintiff’s expert mechanical engineer maintained that the machine was defectively designed in that it failed to incorporate a braking mechanism which would lower the cycling time after shut-off from 90 seconds to 10 seconds.

The defendant’s expert countered that the machine’s utility would have been adversely affected by the design change advanced by the plaintiff’s expert as necessary. The defense expert focused upon the fact that the machine was used in a junkyard rather than a factory setting which, he maintained, calls for different safety considerations and that more would be involved in terms of costs and maintenance were the design changes advanced by the plaintiff’s expert implemented. The evidence established that the plaintiff was familiar with the machine and had used it approximately 25 times over the two year period preceding the accident. The defendant alleged that the accident was caused by the plaintiff’s own inadvertent act in placing his hand near the moving blade.

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