Kendall Dunson settled a lawsuit in Sumter County, Ala., just as the case was to start. Our client, James French, was an operator at Rock-Tenn in Livingston Ala., making $20 dollars an hour, and was well aware that jobs like that are difficult to obtain. Mr. French operated a Planeta printing press, which consisted of six identical printing units. His employer, Rock-Tenn, located in Livingston, Ala., primarily manufactured and printed the labels on boxes used to transport frozen shrimp. Mr. French was injured in November of 2009 when his hand was pinched between the rollers inside the fifth unit of the printing press. He was in the process of cleaning ink off the rolls of the fifth unit when his hand was caught.
As a result of the entrapment, Mr. French lost the index finger on his right hand and later underwent an additional ray amputation of his right hand below the amputated index finger. In cases like this, suit is normally filed against the manufacturer of the machine. But, in this case, the subject printing press was designed and manufactured in such a manner that Mr. French’s injury would not have occurred, but for the disabling of multiple safety devices by his co-employees. Those included the plant manager and the head of maintenance.
The subject printing press was designed with a safety gate to guard the rollers inside the individual printing units. When the safety gates are opened, an interlock automatically and instantly stops the rollers. To clean the rollers, the operator has to activate a manual advance button. As soon as the operator releases the manual advance button, the rollers stop instantly. In addition to the interlocked safety gate and the manual advance button, the operator has access to two emergency stop buttons in the event the rollers need to be stopped in the event of an emergency.
On the date of Mr. French’s injury, the safety gate, the manual advance button and the emergency stop button closest to Mr. French were bypassed by the plant manager and the head of maintenance for the purpose of maintaining production. The subject Planeta press was cutting off during production. When the issue was diagnosed, it was determined that the safety switch in the gate and the emergency stop button were causing the press to shut down. Instead of repairing the problems, which would have taken a few days and cost less than $1,000, management chose to bypass the safety devices so production could continue uninterrupted.
Mr. French’s hand was stuck in the rollers for 20 minutes and he had to direct others at the plant to manipulate the controls to stop the rollers so he could free his hand. In Alabama, it is illegal to intentionally bypass a safety device on a machine. We filed suit in Sumter County and were able to settle the case for Mr. French and his family. Although he will live the remainder of his life without his index finger and part of his dominant hand, we were able to replace the future income he lost as a result of the egregious conduct of his plant manager and co-employee. It was undisputed that the injury would not have occurred if the safety devices had been operational. Interestingly, the Defendants’ primary defense was to blame Mr. French for his injury. We didn’t believe a jury would accept that defense and apparently those making the settlement decision for the Defendants agreed.
In addition to the monetary settlement, Mr. French was informed that Rock-Tenn made many changes at the facility to ensure that safety devices will not be bypassed in the future. Routine inspections will be made to ensure that all safety devices are operational, and machines that have safety devices inoperable will be shut down until the devices are repaired. Mr. French’s injury and subsequent lawsuit not only benefited him and his family, but it also benefited hundreds of employees who are now working in a much safer environment. Kendall Dunson, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, handled this case and he did a very good job for his client. This case was referred to our firm by former state senator Bingham Edwards, a very good lawyer from Decatur, Ala. The amount of the settlement is confidential.
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