Product Liability - Severe Hand Injury Caused by Missing Guard
Plaintiff was a 20 year-old male employed by a temporary employment agency, which was the third party defendant, and working at a factory owned by the defendant. Plaintiff suffered a severe personal injury when his hand was pulled into a labeling machine causing a severe degloving injury to his right palm, as a result of which he had a large open wound causing severe injury to the hand. At the time of the incident, a metal guard had been removed by defendant’s employees from the nip point that grabbed plaintiff’s hand.
As is often the case, an unskilled employee of the defendant carelessly removed a bent guard which protected operators from severe crush injuries at a "nip point” in the machine. Without the guard in place, operators were exposed to unreasonable risks of fingers, hands and arms being pulled into the moving rollers of the machine. The 20-year-old plaintiff had no notice of the danger presented by the machine with the guard absent. He had received no training in accident prevention or safety awareness as it related to the operation of the machine. At trial, it would have been likely that the defendant would try to blame plaintiff for improper placement of his hands into the moving rollers.
The liability of the defendant was based upon its negligence in permitting the machine to be operated without the guard protecting the nip point in question. The witness who testified on behalf of the defendant admitted that the machine should not have been operated without the guard in place. He also testified that the bent guard was straightened and put back on the machine within two hours of plaintiff’s accident. Defendant’s liability was also based upon the negligence of plaintiff’s supervisor who trained plaintiff to lightly tap the rotating drum of the machine to determine whether it was dry or tacky. Plaintiff’s supervisor denied training plaintiff to lightly tap the rotating drum of the machine. However, the supervisor, in a recorded interview with an insurance investigator days after the incident stated that “you can lean over and put your hand on the mat.”
The defendant's negligence caused the plaintiff to suffer a severe complex degloving injury of the right palm with multiple open fractures for which he underwent open reduction and internal fixation. He was left with a significant deformity and severe scarring. He had partial impairment of the right arm, a 16.5 cm. scar, reduced grip strength and a significant cosmetic deformity of the right hand. His orthopedic surgeon gave him a permanent partial impairment of 13% of the right upper extremity. Medical bills totaled $22,378.03. Lost wages totaled approximately $7,500.00.
The case settled at mediation with Attorney Cynthia Cohen (who is now an Associate Justice on the Massachusetts Appeals Court).