Carolinas Verdicts

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Family blamed lack of safety features for worker’s factory fall

Amount:

$8,800,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

South Carolina

Venue:

Federal

Court:

U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Injury Type(s):

head-fracture, skull;
head-blunt force trauma to the head; brain-traumatic brain injury; brain-subarachnoid hemorrhage; brain-epidural/extradural hematoma; other-death; other-craniotomy; epidermis-contusion; face/nose-fracture, facial bone;
arterial/vascular-hemorrhage

Case Type:

Wrongful Death – Survival Damages; Products Liability – Strict Liability, Industrial Machinery, Manufacturing Defect

Case Name:

Lisa J. Priester, individually, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of David A. Priester, Jr. v. SAR Automation, L.P., Intec Automated Controls Inc., Futuramic Tool and Engineering Co., and Capital Welding Inc,
No. 2:14-cv-01108-DCN

Date:

August 24, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Lisa J. Priester (Female), 

David A. Priester, Jr. (Male, 38 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Kevin R. Dean;
Motley Rice LLC;
Mount Pleasant,
SC,
for
Lisa J. Priester, David A. Priester, Jr. ■ Anne Kearse;
Motley Rice;
Mt. Pleasant,
SC,
for
Lisa J. Priester, David A. Priester, Jr.

Plaintiff Expert(s):

B. Woodside; III; Personal Injury (Economics); Charleston,
SC called by:
Kevin R. Dean, Anne Kearse ■ Daryl Ebersole; P.E.; Electrical; Lancaster,
PA called by:
Kevin R. Dean, Anne Kearse ■ Bartley Eckhardt; P.E.; Mechanical; Lancaster,
PA called by:
Kevin R. Dean, Anne Kearse

Defendant(s):

Capital Welding Inc., 

SAR Automation, L.P., 

Intec Automated Controls Inc., 

Futuramic Tool and Engineering Co.

Defense Attorney(s):

Kurt M. Rozelsky;
Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP;
Greenville,
SC,
for
Capital Welding Inc., Futuramic Tool and Engineering Co. ■ Mark H. Wall;
Wall Templeton & Haldrup, P.A.;
Charleston,
SC,
for
SAR Automation, L.P. ■ Stephanie G. Brown;
Wall Templeton & Haldrup, P.A.;
Charleston,
SC,
for
SAR Automation, L.P. ■ Curtis W. Dowling;
Barnes, Alford, Stork & Johnson, LLP;
Columbia,
SC,
for
Intec Automated Controls Inc.

Defendant Expert(s):

Paul Turner;
Electrical;
Raleigh,
NC called by:
Mark H. Wall, Stephanie G. Brown

Insurer(s):

Travelers Property Casualty Corp. for SAR Automation

Facts:

On March 18, 2013, plaintiff’s decedent, David Priester Jr., 38, a Boeing employee, was working at a company manufacturing facility in North Charleston. He was standing on an automated “slider,” a platform that extends to adjustable lengths to conform to the shape of an aircraft fuselage. The sliders were attached to a type of mobile elevated platform called a “Cell 90.” Priester was about 18 feet above the floor, working with several other employees to place plastic in the seams of the body of a 787 aircraft. Following a routine rotation maneuver of the fuselage, the sliders were redeployed by the Cell 90 computer system. According to the design of the Cell 90, the sliders were to be kept no more than several inches from the fuselage to avoid opening a dangerous gap between the sliders and the aircraft. However, the slider on which Priester was working, at the front end of the platform, stopped, while the other 17 sliders continued to deploy as commanded by the platform’s computer system. As a result of the computer-system malfunction, a gap of three feet was opened between the slider and the fuselage. Priester was aware of the gap but continued to work. At some point, he fell through the gap to the factory floor. He died 11 days later. Lisa Priester, individually and on behalf of her late husband’s estate, sued Futuramic Tool and Engineering Co., which manufactured Cell 90; slider parts supplier McMaster-Carr Supply Co.; Capital Welding Inc., a division of Futuramic which performed the fabrication and assembly work; Intec Automated Controls Inc., which installed the electronics and provided the programming for Cell 90; and SAR Automation, L.P., which performed modifications to Cell 90 after it was installed at the Boeing facility. The lawsuit asserted claims of design defect, manufacturing defect, and failure to warn, among others. Regarding Futuramic, the lawsuit argued that it defectively manufactured the Cell 90 platform, because it was made differently than had been intended, creating a defective condition. Futuramic had a contract with Boeing to provide the software for Cell 90 but instead it delivered the platform with incomplete software and turned to Intec Automated Controls to complete it. SAR Automation was responsible for verifying that Intec’s system met all requirements, including its software intended to stop movement of the sliders. SAR Automation’s failure allegedly resulted in Cell 90 operating differently from how it was designed to operate. Responding to motions by the companies, the court dismissed the claims of design defect and failure to warn against Futuramic Capital Welding and SAR Automation. All claims against McMaster-Carr Supply Co. were voluntarily dismissed with prejudice in 2015. All claims against Intec were resolved prior to trial as part of a confidential settlement. All the companies except SAR Automation were dismissed after various confidential pre-trial settlements. The court had dismissed the claims against SAR Automation of design defect and failure to warn, because the company was found to have not been involved in the design of the Cell 90 itself, and because the gap between the slider and the fuselage was an open and obvious condition and the decedent had assumed the risk, because he had known of it yet continued to work near it. The estate focused on the claim that SAR Automation was strictly liable for a manufacturing defect. Specifically, the suit contended that the company failed to complete its manufacturing work on the sliders, because it failed to ensure the complete and proper installation of software which it had agreed to provide. That software would have activated horns, emergency lighting and other safety features on the Cell 90 platform to warn employees of the emergence of any dangerous gaps, such as the one Priester fell through. The estate’s engineering experts supported the argument that the Cell 90 unit was defectively manufactured by SAR, because its software failed to conform to the unit’s design. In addition, the estate based the defective manufacture claim on the allegation that SAR had not complied with American National Standard Institute standards in the manufacture of Cell 90, because its work was incomplete. SAR denied it was liable for a manufacturing defect, because it had no part in the initial manufacturing of Cell 90 and the software was merely a modification to the platform. Therefore, the scope of its work was merely an “enhancement of the slider operation,” additional aspects rather than part of the Cell 90 manufacture. As a result, the American National Standard Institute standards did not apply to its work. The company’s engineering expert testified that the Cell 90 unit itself was not defectively manufactured, because the software in question was not part of Cell 90 when it was originally made.

Injury:

Priester was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. He was suffering blunt force trauma injuries, including skull and facial bone fractures, a subscapular contusion, and severe traumatic brain injuries, including maceration and contusion of the left temporoparietal junction, an intraparenchymal hemorrhage, and a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Priester remained in the hospital for 11 days and underwent a decompressive craniotomy to remove an epidural hematoma. He died on March 29. He is survived by his widow and their two minor children. Priester’s widow and his estate sought damages for the decedent’s conscious pain and suffering and for loss of consortium and wrongful death. SAR argued it was not responsible for damages in relation to Priester’s death.

Result:

The jury found that SAR Automation was 95 percent liable and the decedent was 5 percent liable. It awarded the estate $8.8 million in damages. Given liability apportionment, the award was reduced to $8.36 million.

David A. Priester, Jr.: $3,650,000 Wrongful Death: Past Lost Of Consortium; $4,350,000 Wrongful Death: wrongful death; $800,000 Wrongful Death: conscious pain and suffering

Actual Award:

$8,360,000

Trial Information:

Judge:

David C. Norton

Trial Length:

10
 days

Trial Deliberations:

6
 hours

Jury Composition:

7 male/ 4 female

Post Trial:

The parties agreed to a confidential settlement prior to the entry of judgment.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.