Ryan Joyce, a 33-year-old landscape company employee, was using a wood chipper. The machine had a rubber strap holding a tarp in place to direct its output. The strap, which had a hook at each end, had holes cut into the rubber, which were designed to permit a user to adjust the strap’s length.
As the chipper was running, the strap snapped and struck Joyce in the left eye. He suffered severe injuries—including a ruptured globe and detached retina—that rendered him blind in the eye. He continues to suffer eye pain, as well as anxiety and depression. His past medical expenses of about $109,200 were paid by workers’ compensation, and he will likely incur future medical expenses.
At the time of the incident, Joyce was planning to become a park police officer, but because the job requires use of a weapon, his vision loss disqualified him. He now works as a state park ranger. His past and future wage loss is estimated at more than $500,000.
Joyce sued Keeper Corp., the manufacturer of the wood chipper, and two companies to which Keeper possibly subcontracted production of the rubber strap. The plaintiff alleged that the strap was defectively designed in that the holes in the rubber were too large and were not sufficiently reinforced, reducing the strap’s tensile strength. The plaintiff was prepared to show that Keeper was aware of a safer alternative design for the strap using smaller holes and greater reinforcement.
The plaintiff also alleged failure to adequately warn of the danger.
The parties settled for $1.84 million, including $1.5 million from Keeper’s insurer, $190,000 from one of the strap manufacturer’s insurers, and $150,000 from the other strap manufacturer’s insurer. The workers’ compensation carrier asserted a lien of just under $258,000.
Citation: Joyce v. Keeper Corp., No. L-6622-06 (N.J., Essex Co. Super. Jan. 18, 2011).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member John S. Voynick Jr., Cedar Grove, New Jersey.
Plaintiff expert: Russell F. Dunn, chemical engineering, Cantonment, Florida.
Defense expert: Robert B. Pond Jr., materials science, Baltimore.