Lack of warnings, negligent training lead to machinist's injury

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Case in Point

January 17, 2012

Lack of warnings, negligent training lead to machinist's injury 

After the plaintiff suffered a herniated disk when a piece of machinery struck his face, he alleged the machine’s manufacturer failed to provide written warnings or instructions, train users, and flag malfunctioning machines. A jury awarded about $476,300. Clark v. Coldwater Mach. Co.

Andrew Clark, 50, was a machinist at a General Electric plant when the company hired Coldwater Machine Co. to build some equipment for the plant. After delivering the machinery, Coldwater representatives went to the plant to train workers how to use it.

During a training session, as Clark hooked an air line to the equipment, a pneumatic slide on top of the machinery jerked back and forth abruptly, striking him in the face.

Clark’s head whipped backward, and he suffered a herniated disk at C6-7. He now suffers from pain and restricted range of motion in his neck, and his physician has recommended fusion surgery. His past medical expenses totaled about $19,300, and his future medical expenses are estimated at about $101,000. Before the incident, Clark worked substantial overtime, earning about $150,000 annually. He is no longer able to work overtime and now earns about $100,000 annually.

Clark sued Coldwater Machine, alleging that the defendant failed to provide written warnings or instructions with the machinery. Clark also alleged that the company was negligent in conducting the training sessions without any documents, failing to “red tag” the machines when representatives noticed that they were malfunctioning, and failing to check the machines for oil before telling workers to connect the air lines. The plaintiff contended that the slide mechanism on top of the machine was supposed to glide back and forth smoothly but did not because there was no oil in the machine.

Coldwater argued that General Electric should have instructed Clark on the safe use of the machinery and should have known to put oil in it. The defense also argued that Clark should have personally checked for oil beforehand.

The jury allocated fault at 53 percent to Coldwater, 45 percent to General Electric, and 2 percent to Clark. It then awarded about $476,300. The addition of costs and interest brought the total to about $500,000. Under Texas law, because Coldwater was found more than 50 percent liable, it is responsible for the entire verdict, which has been paid.

The workers’ compensation carrier has asserted a lien of about $14,000.

Citation: Clark v. Coldwater Mach. Co., No. 4:10-cv-02520 (S.D. Tex. Nov. 3, 2011).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Vuk Stevan Vujasinovic and Sean Cichowski, both of Houston.

Plaintiff experts: Jack Madeley, safety engineering, College Station, Texas; and Thomas H. Mayor, economics, Houston.

Defense experts: Don E. Bray, mechanical engineering, College Station; Barry Nelms, orthopedic surgery, Bellaire, Texas; and Kenneth G. McCoin, economics, Houston.

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