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Worker claimed finger cut off by shearer lacking user guards

Amount:

$15,000,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Pennsylvania

Venue:

Philadelphia County

Court:

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas

Injury Type(s):

other-tremors; other-neuropathy; other-physical therapy; other-decreased range of motion; other-scar and/or disfigurement; wrist-carpal tunnel syndrome; amputation-finger; hand/finger-hand; hand/finger-finger, severed; hand/finger-hand, deformity; hand/finger-crush injury, hand; neurological-nerve damage/neuropathy (nerve damage, median nerve); mental/psychological-emotional distress

Case Type:

Products Liability - Design Defect, Failure to Warn, Strict Liability, Industrial Machinery

Case Name:

Juan Reyes v. Cincinnati Inc. and Weaver Sheet Metal LLC / Juan Reyes v. Control Associates & MFG LLC, No. 140703744; 140904710

Date:

November 18, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Juan Reyes (Male, 41 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

James D. Golkow; Golkow Hessel, LLC; Philadelphia, PA, for Juan Reyes ■ Daniel L. Hessel; Golkow Hessel, LLC; Philadelphia, PA, for Juan Reyes

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Amir Katz; M.D.; Physical Medicine; Allentown, PA called by: James D. Golkow, Daniel L. Hessel ■ Brian O'Donel; P.E.; Mechanical; Lancaster, PA called by: James D. Golkow, Daniel L. Hessel ■ Terri Patterson; R.N.; Life Care Planning; Plymouth Meeting, PA called by: James D. Golkow, Daniel L. Hessel ■ Lawrence Weiss; M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Allentown, PA called by: James D. Golkow, Daniel L. Hessel

Defendant(s):

Cincinnati Inc., 

Weaver Sheet Metal LLC, 

Control Associates & MFG LLC

Defense Attorney(s):

William C. Foster; Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C.; Philadelphia, PA, for Cincinnati Inc. ■ None reported; for Weaver Sheet Metal LLC, Control Associates & MFG LLC ■ Cristin A. Cavanaugh; Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C.; Philadelphia, PA, for Cincinnati Inc.

Defendant Expert(s):

Peter Schwalje; Mechanical; Edison, NJ called by: William C. Foster, Cristin A. Cavanaugh ■ Stanley Askin; Orthopedic Surgery; Philadelphia, PA called by: William C. Foster, Cristin A. Cavanaugh

Facts:

On Oct. 11, 2012, plaintiff Juan Reyes, 41, a laborer, had part of his right middle finger severed while using a Cincinnati hydraulic plate-shearing machine, in Leola. He had been using the machine as part of his job at a materials-processing facility. While positioning a piece of metal beneath the shear knife, he inadvertently stepped on the foot pedal which activated the machine, and a cylinder, carrying 47 tons of force, crushed his right hand. Reyes sued machine manufacturer Cincinnati Inc., alleging claims under theories of negligence and products liability, including design defect, post-sale duty to warn, and strict liability. Reyes also sued Weaver Sheet Metal LLC (which had purchased and refurbished the machine) and, in another suit that was later consolidated, Control Associates & MFG LLC (which performed some service on the machine). Both companies were dismissed, prior to trial. The machine had been manufactured in 1983, and Reyes' employer bought it in 2006 from another company. Reyes' expert in mechanical engineering opined that the machine was defective, assuming that it was missing a key safeguard -- known as a roll guard -- which would have protected Reyes from the cylinder. The guard would have fit onto the bottom of the machine's awareness barrier to prevent a user from putting a hand into the point of operation. Without the roll guard in place, a large gap was created so that a user could insert a hand into the danger zone. Additionally, the foot pedal had a safety cover that was not functioning. According to Reyes' counsel, at some point after the machine had been sold, the safety cover had been damaged or altered. In 2009, a Cincinnati service technician had worked on the machine but neglected to inform Reyes' employer about both the broken foot-pedal safety and missing roll guard, his counsel asserted. It was not until a similar accident on the same machine, after Reyes' accident, that it was discovered that the roll guard was missing and that the safety covering to the foot pedal did not work. According to Reyes' counsel, following the second accident, Reyes' employer contacted Cincinnati, and its product-safety head was informed about the machine's condition. After researching the issue, the head allegedly determined that it was not until 1984 that the roll guards were added to the machine, which the head allegedly confirmed in an internal email to a colleague. Therefore, since the machine was manufactured and sold in 1983, the machine Reyes used was without a roll guard, Reyes' counsel contended. However, in his deposition, the product-safety head testified that he had mistakenly looked at the wrong plans and that the roll guards were in fact added to the machine long before 1983. At trial, he stated that the email to his colleague was correct, but that he was not referring to roll guards, but to an entirely different part of the machine, unrelated to the accidents. Cincinnati maintained that the device had been properly equipped with the roll guard, but the guard had been removed sometime during the 30 years the machine had been in use. Moreover, the warning labels clearly informed the user about how to properly use the machine. Cincinnati's expert in mechanical engineering opined that the machine was reasonably safe if it was sold with the roll guard.

Injury:

A good portion of Reyes' middle finger on his right (dominant) hand was severed. He was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, where he had a partial amputation, with a small portion of his finger remaining. Reyes treated with two orthopedic surgeons and a pain-management specialist. An EMG was positive for damage to his median nerve. He treated with pain medication and underwent 18 months of physical and occupational therapies. He was later diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. His condition plateaued, and no further treatment was administered. He sought to recover approximately $45,000 in past medical costs and approximately $40,000 for 15 months of missed work. Due to loss of grip strength and dexterity, and permanent tremors, Reyes was unable to return to his job, and later worked at an auto-parts dealer and then as a gas-station attendant. His counsel argued that he was relegated to the least-paying and least-skilled jobs. Reyes' orthopedic surgeon and physiatrist discussed the nature of his injuries and how he would suffer from continued limitation and sensitivity, and from decreased range of motion, neuropathy, and tremors. Reyes testified that he defined himself by working with his hands, as he helped out family and friends with solving mechanical problems, like working on cars and fixing houses. He enjoyed drawing, fishing, and playing guitar -- activities he can no longer do. He sought damages for past and future pain and suffering. Cincinnati's expert in orthopedic surgery, who examined Reyes, testified that there was no orthopedic explanation for the tremors, and if they are real, they are psychological in nature.

Result:

The jury found that the hydraulic shear was defective under the consumer expectations and risk utility tests and that the defect under these tests was a factual cause of harm to Reyes. Jurors did not find that the hydraulic shear (including the footswitch) was altered or changed after it left Cincinnati's possession or that any alteration or change was so extraordinary that it was not reasonably foreseeable to Cincinnati, and therefore should be considered as the sole cause of Reyes' harm. Cincinnati breached a post-sale duty to warn customers and users who purchased or used the hydraulic shear about a known defect in the hydraulic shear, and that the breach of the post-sale duty to warn was a factual cause of harm to Reyes, jurors determined. The jury found that Cincinnati negligently undertook to render services to protect others and that its negligence was a factual cause of harm to Reyes. Jurors determined that Reyes was not negligent. Reyes was determined to receive $15 million.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Daniel J. Anders

Trial Length:

5  days

Trial Deliberations:

4  hours

Post Trial:

Defense counsel filed motions for new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

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. Control Associates & MFG LLC and Weaver Sheet Metal LLC were not asked to contribute.