Worker loses legs in concrete mixer lacking adequate safety features

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Recent Cases: Industrial Products & Equipment

June/July 2012, Volume 31, No. 3

Worker loses legs in concrete mixer lacking adequate safety features 

Naranjo v. Columbia Mach., Inc., No. BC428733 (Cal., Los Angeles Co. Super. Oct. 10, 2011).

Jose Guadalupe Naranjo, 46, was cleaning the inside of a concrete mixer manufactured and designed by Columbia Machine, Inc., when the mixer suddenly activated. The mixing blades cut through both of Naranjo’s legs. They could not be saved, and both were surgically amputated above the knee. He now uses prosthetic legs and also relies on a wheelchair. His past medical expenses totaled about $1.05 million, and his future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at $5.5 million to $6.25 million. At the time of the incident, Naranjo was working as a supervisor at a concrete mixing plant, but he is now permanently disabled. He incurred about $72,600 in past lost earnings, and his future lost earnings are estimated at $636,500.

Naranjo sued Columbia Machine, alleging the mixer was defectively designed in that it lacked adequate safety features to prevent it from becoming energized while it was being cleaned. Specifically, the plaintiff contended that at the time the machine was manufactured in 1978, it was manufactured without interlock devices, delays between the time the machine became energized and the time the blades started moving, audible warning horns, or visible warning beacons. Columbia began using these safety features in the 1980s, the plaintiff claimed, but failed to alert customers that they were available until 2000, when it sent a letter to its customers advising of their availability. Naranjo contended that Columbia never followed up with his employer after sending the letter, and the head of Columbia’s product safety team acknowledged that the company knew there would likely be a poor response to the letters.

The plaintiff also contended that Columbia had an ongoing business relationship with his employer and was at the concrete plant on a regular basis. Although Columbia maintained that it trained its employees in the field to advise if a customer had an old machine without safety equipment, Naranjo asserted, none of the field employees said anything to Columbia management or to his employer about the fact that available safety features were not in place.

Columbia contended that Naranjo was negligent in failing to lock out/tag out the machine’s electrical supply before beginning work. The defense also argued that the plaintiff’s employer had substantially modified the machine.

The parties settled for $3.5 million. The workers’ compensation carrier waived a lien of about $1 million and agreed to continue paying lifetime medical benefits.

The plaintiff’s experts were Michael McCarthy, mechanical engineering, Irvine, Calif.; Mark S. Sanders, human factors, Encino, Calif.; Lawrence S. Miller, physiatry, Santa Monica, Calif.; Jan Roughan, life-care planning, Monrovia, Calif.; and Sandra Schneider, vocational rehabilitation, Los Angeles.

The defense experts were Jeff Schwalje, mechanical engineering, Edison, N.J.; James Fenander, mechanical engineering (in house), Vancouver, Wash.; Morris S. Farkas, safety engineering, Santa Monica; Gerard Moulin, electrical engineering, Yorba Linda, Calif.; and Rick Chavez, prosthetics, Northridge, Calif.

Plaintiff Counsel

Adam K. Shea,
Spencer R. Lucas, and
George Rosenberg, all of Los Angeles

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