December 12, 2017, PLLR E-Newsletter
Seller deactivated bread slicer’s safety devices, leading to baker’s finger amputations
The claimants alleged that the defendant had disabled five of the machine’s safety sensors during a product demonstration and failed to re-engage them before delivering the machine to the claimants’ bakery. The parties settled before filing for $2 million. Hansen v. Bakeryequipment.com, Inc.
Jorgen Hansen, a baker, learned that Bakeryequipment.com, Inc., was selling a used bread slicing and bagging machine. Hansen traveled to the company’s location to watch a demonstration of the machine. He subsequently purchased the machine and had it installed in his bakery.
The machine’s slicing component had 24 serrated blades, which were housed in a metal compartment resembling a large gym locker. The compartment had six metal doors, including one large, main door on each side. Safety sensors were located just inside each door, so that, when closed, part of the door touched the sensor. The machine was designed to activate only when all the sensors were touching metal, indicating that all the doors were closed. If any sensor was not touching metal, the machine was not supposed to turn on, even if a user pressed the start button.
About three months after purchasing the machine, Hansen, 57, was performing a routine cleaning. He opened one of the slicer’s main doors and knelt down on one knee, holding a spray bottle in his left hand a cleaning cloth in his right, dominant hand. After spraying some cleaning solution on the blades and wiping them, he reached up to place the bottle on top of the machine. The bottle’s pull handle contacted the start button. Although the door was still open, the machine turned on and the blades activated, trapping and repeatedly slicing Hansen's right hand. He managed to pull his hand out, but he suffered an extreme avulsion injury with extensive skin loss from his wrist to his fingertips, exposing tendon and bone. Part of his thumb and a large amount of skin were found beneath the machine.
Hansen’s wife, who was working nearby, rushed him to a hospital emergency room, where he was airlifted to a medical center that could perform hand surgery. He underwent surgery that included debridement and wound care, and he was discharged two days later with a wound vacuum to assist closure. Three days later, he underwent additional surgery that included irrigation and debridement, amputation of his long and ring fingers, and placement of a skin flap over the amputated fingers and exposed dorsal tissue. About two months after the initial injury, he underwent a split-thickness skin graft to the dorsal wound and index finger, using skin harvested from his thigh.
Hansen suffered severe pain in his hand, including phantom pain in the amputated fingers, and he required an injection to treat a neuroma. He also became extremely depressed, and doctors diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). About seven months after the incident, he lost his balance on his porch and attempted unsuccessfully to catch himself with his injured hand. He fell, fracturing his right leg, which required fixation and placement of hardware.
Hansen continues to suffer significant pain in his hand, which is severely disfigured and essentially useless. He was unable to return to the bakery or other employment. An accomplished sailor, champion water-skier, and skilled golfer and pianist, he is now unable to participate in any of those activities. He is also unable to perform many basic daily tasks. His past medical expenses totaled approximately $169,400, and he will incur future medical expenses for treatment that may include additional surgeries to address pain, functionality, and appearance of his hand.
Hansen and his wife claimed that before demonstrating the machine to Hansen, Bakeryequipment.com had disabled five of the machine’s safety sensors—including the sensor to the door Hansen opened—by duct-taping a metal washer to each sensor. Before delivering the slicer, the Hansens claimed, Bakeryequipment.com failed to remove the metal washers or otherwise re-engage the sensors. As a result, they claimed, when Hansen opened one of the slicer’s main doors—believing it was safe to clean the blades because the machine would not turn on with the door open—the machine activated when the bottle struck the start button, causing the blades to mangle his hand.
The parties settled before filing for $2 million, paid by Bakeryequipment.com’s primary and excess insurers
Citation: Hansen v. Bakeryequipment.com, Inc., Ga., settled before filing, Oct. 25, 2017.
Claimant counsel: Michael T. Rafi, Atlanta.
Claimant experts: Jim Hill, mechanical engineering, Columbus, Ohio; Eric Spreeman, occupational therapy, Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Mike McCord, vocational rehabilitation, Atlanta.