Date of Verdict:
Court and Case No.:
C.P. Philadelphia No. 140703744.
Daniel J. Anders.
Type of Action:
Hand crush injury, amputation.
Daniel L. Hessel and James Golkow, Golkow Hessel, Philadelphia.
William C. Foster, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Philadelphia.
Dr. Amir Katz, physical medicine, Allentown.
Dr. Stanley Askin, orthopedist, Elkins Park.
A man whose hand was crushed in an industrial shear machine has secured a $15 million verdict against the device’s manufacturer.
A Philadelphia jury awarded that figure to plaintiff Juan Reyes, finding that a hydraulic shear machine manufactured by defendant Cincinnati Inc. was defective.
Reyes’ attorney, Daniel Hessel, who tried the case with his partner James Golkow, said he was not surprised by the size of the award given the injuries and the fact that Reyes sat at counsel’s table during trial.
“Mr. Reyes lost all function in his dominant hand. He is in constant pain and suffers from near constant tremors,” Hessel said. “The jury saw him for four days affected by these tremors.”
According to Reyes’ pretrial memo, on Oct. 11, 2012, Reyes used a Cincinnati Hydraulic Plate Shear machine as part of his job at a materials processing facility near Lancaster. While positioning a piece of metal beneath the shear knife, Reyes inadvertently stepped on a foot pedal that activated the machine, and a cylinder carrying 47 tons of force crushed Reyes’ right hand, the memo said.
The device had been manufactured in 1983, and Reyes’ employer bought it in 2006 from another company. In his memo, Reyes contended that the machine was missing a key safeguard that would have protected Reyes from the cylinder, and the foot pedal had a safety cover that was not working. He further contended that a Cincinnati technician, who had serviced the device in 2009, failed to tell Reyes’ employer the safety guard was missing and the foot pedal guard was not working.
Reyes sued Cincinnati on products liability theories and negligence.
According to the memo, Reyes suffered an amputation of his middle right finger. He was immediately taken to a hospital, where he underwent a revision and partial amputation surgery. He subsequently underwent a physical therapy for 18 months; however, his treating physician, Dr. Amir Katz, found he would suffer from continued limitation and sensitivity, as well as decreased range of motion, neuropathy and tremors, the memo said.
According to Hessel, a similar accident happened on the same machine after his client’s hand was crushed. After the company called about what safeguards could be added to the device to increase safety, it was discovered that the guard, which Cincinnati had started adding to the shear devices after the one at issue was made, was missing.
Hessel said an email sent by the defendant’s product safety head likely swayed the jury against Cincinnati on liability. The email, Hessel said, indicated that the company began installing the safety bars at issue in 1984.
According to Hessel, at depositions the witness said he assumed the guard had been added in 1984, but he reviewed the wrong plans for the device. However, at trial he said he had never been mistaken, and his email was referring to a different guard, Hessel said.
“I don’t think the jury appreciated that pivot,” Hessel said.
In its pretrial memo, Cincinnati contended that the device had been properly equipped with the safety bars, but the bars had been removed sometime during the 30 years the device was in use. The defendant also argued that the warning labels clearly informed the users about how to properly use the machine.
The memo also noted that Reyes had been able to return to work since the accident.
Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin attorney William Foster, who was lead counsel for the defendant, said, “We respectfully disagree with the jury’s verdict, and we’re pursuing post-trial motions.”
The case was tried before Judge Daniel J. Anders, and the jury rendered its verdict Nov. 18. According to the docket, Cincinnati filed post-trial motions on Nov. 28.
— Max Mitchell, of the Law Weekly •