Worker's arm caught in canning machine's unguarded power shaft

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Case in Point

July 12, 2011

Worker's arm caught in canning machine's unguarded power shaft 

The worker and his wife sued the manufacturer of the machine, alleging it was defectively designed in that it lacked an interlock for the PTO shaft guard. Suit against the company that sold the used machine to the man’s employer alleged it failed to ensure that the guard was included with the machinery when it was resold. The parties settled for $510,000. Gonzalez v. HEMA Techs., S.A.

Mario Gonzalez, 33, was working for a food service company feeding can lids into an integrated filling and canning machine. The company’s owners had purchased the equipment used from Doe Company, which had purchased it new from the manufacturer, HEMA Technologies, S.A., about 10 years earlier. HEMA had designed the filling machine to be integrated with another manufacturer’s canning machine so that the two machines shared a power take-off (PTO) shaft as a common power source. The PTO shaft was designed and manufactured with a fixed guard, but the guard was not in place.

While Gonzalez was standing between the filling and canning machines, his supervisor asked him for a tool. As Gonzalez reached over and between the two machines with his right, dominant arm, his jacket became snagged on the rotating PTO shaft, pulling his arm with it. He suffered fractures to the right humerus, radius, and ulna; shoulder impingement syndrome; and posttraumatic stress disorder. He incurred about $98,400 in past medical expenses, and he missed about four months of work, incurring about $21,600 in lost earnings.

Gonzalez and his wife sued HEMA, alleging that the machine was defectively designed in that it lacked an interlock for the PTO shaft guard. The plaintiffs were prepared to show that safety literature recommended interlocking or limit switches for guards and that the other manufacturer’s canning machine that had been integrated with the HEMA machinery had limit switches for all of its access doors and panels.

The plaintiffs also sued Doe Company, alleging that it was negligent in failing to ensure that the guard was included with the machinery when it was resold to the plaintiff’s employer.

Suit against HEMA’s U.S. distributor alleged that it had failed to warn Gonzalez’s employer that the machine was missing the guard when the defendant provided after-market customer support to the employer.

Finally, the plaintiffs sued two intermediate brokers who had assisted in procuring the machinery from Doe Company, alleging, among other things, that they were responsible for ensuring that there were no components missing.

The plaintiffs did not claim future medical expenses but claimed that Gonzalez will incur unspecified lost future earnings.

HEMA argued, among other things, that the machine was originally provided with a fixed guard for the PTO shaft that complied with industry standards and could be removed only by trained and authorized personnel with special tools.

All of the defendants also argued that the guard was included when it was sold to Gonzalez’s employer and that the employer had lost, misplaced, or failed to reinstall it.

The parties settled for $510,000. HEMA and its U.S. distributor paid about 60 percent of the settlement, and the other defendants contributed the rest. There is a net workers’ compensation lien of $67,000.

Citation: Gonzalez v. HEMA Techs., S.A., No. 1:09-cv-01455 (M.D. Pa. May 18, 2011).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Richard M. Jurewicz, Philadelphia.

Plaintiff experts: Bartley J. Eckhardt, mechanical engineering, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; John Risser, vocational rehabilitation, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania; Arnold T. Shienvold, clinical psychology, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Charles M. Davis, orthopedic surgery, and Timothy Johnson, plastic surgery, both of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Defense experts: Frank Schwalje, mechanical engineering, Edison, New Jersey; William H. Daly III, mechanical engineering, Chesapeake, Maryland; Irene Mendelsohn, vocational rehabilitation, Penn Valley, Pennsylvania; Timothy Michals, psychiatry, Philadelphia; and Stephen W. Dailey, orthopedic surgery, Harrisburg.

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