Injured wood trimmer operator loses appeal against manufacturer

A Southern Indiana machinery worker’s failure to follow warnings and instructions on a woodcutting machine he was using were the cause of injuries he sustained on the job, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded on Monday. As such, the machinery’s manufacturer couldn’t have reasonably expected the accident.

While working for wooden pallet producer American Fibertech, Kyle Hackney in November 2015 suffered shoulder and arm injuries after working on a machine called the Pendu Edger 3000 manufactured by Pendu Manufacturing, Inc. The machine is comprised of three components, an in-feed for the wood, an edger, and an out-feed.

Hackney was injured at the out-feed, when he reached over the still-operating machine and balanced on one foot to remove a piece of wood to prevent a jam. Seconds later, the shirttail of Hackney’s
sweatshirt got caught in the machine and became entangled until the sweatshirt was removed from his body, injuring him.

Hackney sued Pendu, alleging that the machine was negligently designed and that, under Indiana’s Product Liability Act, the machine was unreasonably dangerous and a defective product. In response, Pendu argued in a motion for summary judgment that Hackney’s injuries were caused by his own misuse of the machine, among other things.

The Lawrence Circuit Court ruled in favor of Pendu, granting summary judgment and holding that the “issues of misuse and alterations of the equipment as they relate to the holding in (Campbell Hausfeld/Scott Fetzer Co. v. Johnson), 109 N.E.3d 953 (Ind. 2018) are dispositive.”

It subsequently denied Hackney’s motion to correct error, prompting Hackney to appeal. He argued it was error for the trial court to grant summary judgment on the basis of the misuse defense.

A panel of appellate judges affirmed the trial court’s decision in Kyle Hackney v. Pendu Manufacturing, Inc., 19A-CT-1080, concluding that Hackney’s failure to follow the instructions and warnings provided in the machine’s safety manual resulted in his injuries. The panel also noted his weekly safety trainings with Fibertech.

“The evidence therefore showed that the accident would not have occurred if, by Hackney’s own admission, he had turned the Machine off before going to remove the scrap wood. Further leading to the accident was the fact that Hackney leaned over the moving Machine while not being properly balanced on two feet and allowed his sweatshirt to come in contact with the shaft of the Machine. It is clear that if Hackney had turned off the Machine, the accident would not have occurred, and even if he had not done so, the accident may have been avoided if he did not lean directly across the moving Machine, had maintained proper footing, and was not wearing a loose-fitting shirt that easily caught in the moving shaft,” Judge James Kirsch wrote for the appellate court.

Next, the appellate court did not find that Hackney’s failure to follow the instructions and warnings was reasonably expected by Pendu, noting similarities on that issue between Hackney’s case and Campbell.

“While Pendu could have perhaps reasonably expected an operator to not follow one of the warnings or instructions, it could not have reasonably expected an operator to disregard the safety warnings and instructions in all of the ways that Hackney did. Hackney could have avoided injury if he had shut the Machine off before reaching into it to remove the piece of scrap wood or if he not leaned directly in front of the moving Machine or maintained proper footing or worn proper attire that would not have gotten caught in the Machine. His multiple failures to follow the Machine’s warnings and instructions were the cause of his injuries and taken together, could not be reasonably expected by Pendu,” the appellate panel concluded.

Thus, it found that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment to Pendu against Hackney’s claims.

This article was first published by The Indiana Lawyer.

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