Kendall Dunson, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury / Products Liability Section, recently settled a negligent installation/assembly case against a Tennessee corporation, Mid-South Mechanical Sealant (Mid-South). Our client was employed locally at Databank Services (Databank), a company traditionally involved in the documents storage business. But Databank decided in 2005 to evolve into thermoforming. As you may know, thermoforming products use shredded paper to create products similar to egg cartons. Databank purchased two used thermoforming machines from a company in Virginia. These machines had been dormant for approximately five years. Databank hired Mid-South to assemble and install the machinery at Databank’s facility.
On May 15, 2009, one of the thermoforming machines experienced a jam. As he was trained to do, our client entered the machine to clear the jam. While in the process of clearing the jam, a platen moved and entrapped his hand, crushing and burning his right hand for approximately twenty minutes. When he was finally freed from the machine, his right hand was crushed and burned so severely that he no longer has use of his hand.
More often than not, cases dealing with a failure to properly guard a machine hazard are filed against the machine designer/manufacturer. In this case, however, we filed suit against the entity that assembled and installed the machinery. The thermoforming machine was equipped with interlocked guard doors that cut power to the machine when the doors were opened. Mid-South failed to properly connect this very important safety device.
The testimony in the case established that Mid-South not only failed to properly connect the interlocks, but it also failed to conduct a safety review of the design and failed to address safety in any regard. The evidence also revealed that Mid-South had never, before this particular project, assembled or installed any industrial machinery. Mid-South was engaged in the business of selling pumps and seals. Mid-South’s inexperience in assembling and installing industrial machinery was the direct cause of the company failing to adequately assemble and install the subject machinery.
Kendall and his staff hired a consultant who has a background in engineering and specific experience in assembling and installing industrial machinery. The consultant opined that Mid-South had a responsibility to:
• conduct a safety review;
• ensure that existing safety devices were connected and properly working; and
• add any necessary devices to ensure the safety of the operator.
The interlocking doors would have cut power to the machine anytime the doors were opened. Furthermore, a press block would have prevented the device from entrapping our client’s hand had the device been incorporated into the design. Because Mid-South had no experience in this field, it failed to satisfy any of these responsibilities. In a nutshell, Mid-South accepted the responsibility to perform a task for which it was not qualified. The parties settled the case just as it was set to go to trial on August 13th in federal court in Montgomery. Kendall did a very good job for his client in this case. It is his hope and that of his client that Mid-South and other similarly-situated entities will think twice before accepting the responsibility to perform a task for which it is clearly not qualified. Hopefully, a valuable lesson was learned.
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