We have discussed the dangers associated with working with industrial machinery in past issues of the Report. It’s well documented that machine-related accidents can lead to serious bodily injury and even death. We recently resolved a case for our clients, Mr. and Mrs. Dexter Wilson, involving industrial machinery. Mr. Wilson lost his left leg in an on-the-job accident. When Mr. Wilson originally sought assistance from a lawyer with his Workers’ Compensation claim, the lawyer discovered that his client had been injured by a chain drag system. He then referred the case to our firm to determine whether Mr. Wilson had a viable product liability claim against the machine manufacturer. After determining the machine was responsible for the man’s injury, we filed suit against three manufacturing Defendants and recently settled the case favorably for our clients.
Mr. Wilson was employed with MeadWestVaco in Russell County, Alabama. MeadWestVaco processes logs at its facility, using a combination of log decks, step feeders and conveyors to move the logs through the process. Logs are loaded onto the log decks which move the logs to the step feeder. The step feeder then separates and transfers the logs onto the conveyor for finishing down the line. The step feeder and log deck are connected as part of the process. The step feeder in question was installed in 2005. Immediately after installation, the MeadWestVaco employees noticed a buildup of bark and wood chips under the step feeder. The debris pile eventually affected the operation of the step feeder. The manufacturer of the step feeder knew about the problem of debris falling below its machine, yet it took no steps to eliminate or guard against the foreseeable hazard. Both the step feeder and the log deck have moving chains and other parts below the respective machines. The problem required MeadWestVaco to shut the process down, and an employee would have to go under the step feeder as many as four times daily to remove the debris.
MeadWestVaco hired another entity to build a chain drag system to assist in removing the debris from below the step feeder. The chain drag system would not remove all of the debris; however, it reduced the number of times employees were required to clean below the machine. The chain drag system was installed without guarding and without interlocks that would automatically turn the machine off when the area was accessed. On August 24, 2005, Mr. Wilson was cleaning below the step feeder using an air hose. The chain drag caught his pants leg and pulled him into the system. Mr. Wilson was trapped below the machine for as long as 45 minutes bleeding and helpless because no one could see him or hear him under the machine. His leg was severely injured requiring a below-the-knee amputation.
We filed suit under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine alleging the machine was defective and unreasonably dangerous because a foreseeable hazard was not eliminated or guarded against. Initially, the manufacturers of the step feeder and the chain drag system denied liability. In reality, both were responsible for Mr. Wilson’s injury. Our client’s life is forever changed as he will have to adjust to life without his leg. He can no longer perform his job and is forever disfigured physically and is emotionally scarred. After a year of litigation we were able to reach a confidential settlement with the Defendants. The lawsuit could not make Mr. Wilson whole, nor could it give Mrs. Wilson the husband she had before the injury. But the settlement will provide our client’s with adequate compensation for their pain, suffering and inconvenience. Additionally, it will replace Mr. Wilson’s income until he can learn and be trained for a new vocation. Kendall Dunson handled the case, along with Ben Finley, an Atlanta lawyer, and they did an outstanding job.
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