Juan Teran, 23, was working in the shipping and receiving area of a vitamin store when a box on the conveyor system became stuck between a section of the belt and a metal transition roller that joined the belt with an adjacent one. The system shut down, and Teran began pushing the box forward along the belt with his left hand. As he did so, the conveyor started, and another box came up the line. The box struck Teran’s left elbow, forcing his left, nondominant hand between the end roller of the conveyor belt and the transition roller.
Teran suffered multiple injuries to his left wrist, including third-degree friction burns and injuries to the flexor tendon and medial nerve. He underwent surgeries for tendon repair, carpal tunnel release, and debridement of dead tissue. He also underwent a skin-graft procedure in which skin harvested from his thigh was transplanted to his wrist. Teran continues to suffer pain, scarring, and a restricted range of motion in his wrist. His past medical expenses totaled just under $56,300. He missed about six months from his job as a shipping and receiving clerk, incurring about $14,800 in lost earnings.
Teran sued HK Systems, Inc., which designed and manufactured the conveyor system, alleging that it lacked an adequate guard over the in-running nip point between the end roller of the conveyor belt and the transition roller immediately adjacent to it. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that HK Systems chose to guard the nip point by using a pop-out roller for the machine’s transition roller. The roller was supposed to have popped out when Teran’s hand entered the space between the conveyor belt and the transition roller, but it failed to do so, permitting his hand to become trapped and crushed.
The plaintiff’s expert testified that there were a number of safer alternative designs that were both mechanically and economically feasible.
The defendant argued, among other things, that the pop-out roller was adequate and was state-of-the-art at the time the machine was manufactured. The defense also argued that the incident was the result of improper training by the plaintiff’s employer.
At the start of trial, the plaintiff’s counsel sought and obtained a ruling that because the incident occurred in a workplace setting, Teran had no meaningful choice regarding his use of the machinery, and any alleged improper use of the conveyor or improper training by his employer were therefore irrelevant.
The jury found that the conveyor was defectively designed and awarded $105,000. The judgment has been paid. The workers’ compensation carrier waived about $20,000 of a $60,000 lien.
Citation: Teran v. HK Sys., Inc., No. 2:09-cv-01854 (D.N.J. judgm. satisfied Sept. 23, 2011).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Alan T. Friedman, Jersey City, New Jersey.
Plaintiff experts: Neal Growney, mechanical engineering, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey; and Norberto Soto, plastic surgery/reconstructive surgery, Englewood, New Jersey.