Date of Verdict: May 14.
Court and Case No.: U.S.D.C.E.D.Pa. No. 2:04-cv-02053-GP.
Judge: Gene E.K. Pratter.
Type of Action: Products liability.
Injuries: Hand degloving, multiple finger amputation.
Plaintiffs Counsel: William J. Coppol, The Law Offices of John T. Dooley, Pennsauken, N.J.
Defense Counsel: N/A.
Comment: A federal jury in Philadelphia has returned a $4.3 million verdict in favor of a man whose hand was mangled in the rollers of a "smoothing and drying" machine used to tan animal hides.
Now, the trick is going to be collecting it.
U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania had already entered a default judgment on whether the bankrupt Italian manufacturer of the machine, Rizzi 1857 S.P.A., was liable for plaintiff Gil Grove's injuries. The jury trial, therefore, as Grove's attorney put it, was merely "a damages hearing with no defense attorney."
William J. Coppol told the Law Weekly that his firm would be looking into hiring an area law firm with an Italian office to pursue recovering the seven-figure award.
According to pretrial court records, Grove was working as a floor worker at Garden State Tanning in New Jersey when his left hand was pulled into the rollers of the machine from its underside as Grove was helping remove an animal hide that had been wrapped around one of the rollers.
A statement of the facts filed with the court said Grove's three left fingers were pulled into the rollers. His hand was degloved and several of his fingers had to be partially amputated, according to court records.
Grove's statement of the facts said the machine was defective because it failed to incorporate the safety devices necessary to avoid such an accident, such as a photoelectric sensor on the underside of the rollers.
There were no instructions, directions or warnings describing the proper steps to remove an animal hide that was caught in the machine, the pleading said.
Back when Pratter issued a default judgment against Rizzi on liability, the judge noted Rizzi's counsel had withdrawn and the embattled company had ignored several court correspondences. The court also directly warned Rizzi that a default judgment may be entered against it.
"After years in which Rizzi has completely failed to offer any sort of defense as to Mr. Grove's claims, the court has no alternative to entering a default judgment as to liability," Pratter said in a memorandum opinion.
The court declined Grove's request to issue a default judgment as it related to damages and that issue proceeded to trial, albeit without a defendant present.
Coppol said Grove, 22 years old at the time of his injuries, was one of the most sympathetic clients he had ever worked with.
As for collecting from Rizzi, Coppol said whatever corporate restructuring the company underwent under Italian law likely protects it from liability, but said it was too early in that process to say for sure.
— Ben Present, of the Law Weekly