Machine’s safety bar fails, crushing worker’s leg

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December 2011/January 2012
 

Dustin Stone, a truss builder for Central Illinois Truss (CIT), was standing between the tables of a MiTek Roof Glider machine, a 100-foot-long machine consisting of work tables and an overhead gantry with an operator’s platform. Wooden roof trusses were laid out on the machine’s tables, and Stone, 19, was hammering metal plates into the trusses in preparation for the gantry to roll over the tables, compressing the plates down onto the trusses.

While Stone was still between the tables, a coworker went to the gantry’s operator platform and starting driving the gantry over the tables, not realizing that Stone was standing in his path. Stone saw the gantry moving toward him but was unable to escape. As it was about to strike him, he pushed the safety bar attached to pivot arms on the front of the machinery. The bar, which was designed to stop the machine immediately, failed to do so, and the gantry trapped and crushed Stone’s left leg. A coworker applied a tourniquet to prevent Stone from bleeding to death as rescuers used the Jaws of Life to free him. His leg could not be saved and was amputated above the knee. He now wears a prosthesis. His past medical expenses totaled just under $157,200, and his future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at about $3.4 million.

Stone sued MiTek Industries, Incorporated, the manufacturer of the machine, alleging that the safety bar’s design was unreasonably dangerous because it was attached to the gantry’s pivot arms with a C collar and screws. The plaintiff asserted that the design was unreasonably dangerous because vibrations from the machine’s normal operation caused the screws to come loose, rendering the safety bar ineffective. Evidence showed that in an earlier version of the machine, the safety bar was welded to the pivot arms, but that the manufacturer had redesigned the machine to replace the welded attachment with the C collar and screws. After changing the design, the plaintiff contended, the company never tested the collar and screws to determine whether the screws could withstand vibrations from the machine.

The plaintiff did not pursue claims for lost earnings.

MiTek sued CIT for contribution, contending that the machine operator failed to keep a proper lookout for workers in his path and that the company failed to adequately maintain the machine.

The jury awarded approximately $13.54 million, allocating liability at 71 percent to MiTek and 29 percent to CIT. The award included $5 million for pain and suffering, $4 million for disability, $1 million for disfigurement, about $3.38 million for future medical expenses, and about $157,000 for past medical expenses.

The workers’ compensation carrier waived a lien of $228,000 for past benefits paid and also owes benefits for future care. The value of that waiver will be credited against the judgment.

The plaintiff’s experts were John Mroszczyk, safety engineering, Danvers, Mass.; John Michael, prosthetics, Chicago, Ill.; and Charles M. Linke, economics, Champaign, Ill.

MiTek’s expert was Dennis Brickman, mechanical engineering, Aurora, Ill.; and CIT’s expert was John Meyer, mechanical engineering, Sugar Grove, Ill.

Citation: Stone v. MiTek Indus., Inc., Ill., Tazewell Co. Cir., No. 08 L 155, Aug. 26, 2011.

Plaintiff’s counsel: Bruce R. Pfaff, Chicago, Ill. and Matthew D. Ports, Chicago, Ill.