David Canales, 56, was operating a bun-making machine at the bakery where he worked. The machine, manufactured by AMF, Inc., in the 1950s, contained a chain and sprocket assembly. As the machine was slowly rotating trays of dough, Canales reached in to clean some dried dough from the sprocket. His left hand became caught in the nip point between the exposed gear and chain and was drawn into the machine, where it was trapped for about 15 minutes.
Canales suffered crush injuries that required amputation of his middle, ring, and pinky fingers and part of his hand. He underwent three reconstructive surgeries but continues to suffer pain. His use of his hand is now limited to the thumb and index finger. His past medical expenses totaled about $350,000.
At the time he was injured, Canales was earning about $35,000 annually. He is now permanently disabled.
Canales and his wife sued Genmar Handling Co., the successor-in-interest to AMF, alleging that the machine was defectively designed in that the gear mechanism was exposed, permitting a worker’s hand to contact the moving components. The plaintiffs contended that the area should have had a barrier guard.
The defense argued that Canales’s employer had modified the equipment and that Canales was solely at fault for reaching into the machine while it was operating. The defense also argued that the machine had a barrier guard at the location where Canales was injured. The plaintiffs were prepared to introduce design drawings for the machine that contradicted that claim.
During the litigation, Genmar entered bankruptcy. After the stay was lifted, the parties settled for $750,000, paid by the defendant’s insurer. The workers’ compensation carrier has a net lien of $400,000.
Citation: Canales v. Genmar Hlg. Co., No. ESX-L-5943-04 (N.J., Essex Co. Super. Nov. 12, 2012).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Gregg A. Stone, Newark, N.J.