Lack of safety devices on tannery machine leads to worker's finger degloving injuries

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Case in Point

August 13, 2013

Lack of safety devices on tannery machine leads to worker's finger degloving injuries 

The plaintiff sued the machine’s manufacturer, alleging design defect, breach of warranty, and negligence claims. Suit claimed that the machine lacked a safety device that would have stopped the rollers from moving if a worker’s hand entered the zone of danger. The jury awarded $4.3 million. Grove v. Rizzi 1857 S.p.A.

Gil Grove, 22, was working at a leather tanning company when he went to help a coworker remove a piece of hide that had become tangled in a smoothing and drying machine. As Grove was trying to remove the hide, his left, non-dominant hand was drawn into the rollers on the underside of the machine.

Grove suffered degloving injuries to the middle, ring, and pinky fingers, with amputation of all three fingertips. He underwent debridement of dead tissue, a muscle-repair procedure, and closure of the wounds with a groin flap. His fingers were then attached to a pocket created in his abdominal skin for five weeks to promote coverage and regeneration of healthy tissue. About two months after the incident, he underwent a split-thickness graft on the middle and ring fingers and attempted release of a contracture of the pinky finger. His past medical expenses, which were paid by workers’ compensation, totaled about $78,700. The workers’ compensation carrier also paid about $37,700 in indemnity benefits for lost earnings.

Grove’s hand is now deformed and sensitive to swelling during temperature changes. He is unable to grip or grasp, and he is restricted from lifting more than 10 pounds or performing repetitive tasks with the hand. He was unable to return to the tanning company, and his attempts to reenter the workforce in other jobs have been unsuccessful. He is also unable to play sports with his minor son, as he had enjoyed doing before the incident.

Grove sued Rizzi 1857 S.p.A., the Italian manufacturer of the machine, alleging design defect, breach of warranty, and negligence claims. The plaintiff contended that the machine was defectively designed in that it lacked a safety device such as a photoelectric sensing beam on the underside of the rollers that would have stopped them from moving if a worker’s hand entered the zone of danger. The plaintiff was prepared to show that the machine had a similar safety device on the top side of the rollers. The plaintiff also alleged that the machine lacked any warnings or instructions on how to clear a jam.

The lawsuit included two companies that installed and maintained the machinery. Those defendants settled before trial for a total of about $630,000.

After Rizzi failed to appear, the court granted the plaintiff a default judgment on liability, and the case proceeded to trial on damages.

The plaintiff claimed lost future earning capacity of between $610,400 and $1.05 million if he is able to return to work in some capacity, and between $1.22 million and $2.13 million if he is unable to return. He also sought damages for past and future pain and suffering. He did not claim future medical expenses.

The jury awarded $4.3 million.

A workers’ compensation lien of about $98,600 was paid from the settlement funds with the other defendants.

Citation: Grove v. Rizzi 1857 S.p.A., No. 2:04-cv-02053-GP (E.D. Pa. May 14, 2013).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member John T. Dooley and William J. Coppol, both of Pennsauken, N.J.

Plaintiff experts: Geoffrey Hallock and Samina Wahhab, plastic/reconstructive surgery, both of Allentown, Pa.; and Andrew Verzilli, economics, Lansdale, Pa.


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