Machine designer not liable for worker’s injuries

A man who was severely injured by a car crushing machine at work failed to show that the manufacturer of the machine was liable for his injuries.

In Clark v. River Metals Recycling LLC, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Tuesday unanimously affirmed a district court’s dismissal of his lawsuit, holding that the court did not err when it excluded the testimony of the injured worker’s expert.

Richard Clark worked for Thornton Auto Crushing LLC, based in Sturgis, Kentucky, and was responsible for the daily maintenance of the company’s car-crushing machine. To perform his duties, he climbed up onto the right side of the machine — generally grabbing and stepping wherever was handy. The manufacturer, however, recommended that workers used a ladder or a working platform to reach areas of the machine necessary for maintenance.

On March 11, 2013, while on top of the machine, he slipped and fell to the ground, landing on his left arm and shattering his elbow. He said that the arm is “almost completely useless,” that he suffers from constant pain and has not been able to work.

He sued the manufacturer of the machine, Bakersfield, California-based Sierra International Machinery LLC, as well as the company that leased the machine to Thornton, River Metals Recycling LLC of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, arguing that the machine was defectively designed and that the companies were liable for his injuries. His expert opined that the machine should have had a ladder, toeboards and guard rails.

A district court tossed out the testimony of his expert on the grounds that the expert failed to apply “the principles and methods to the facts of the case.” As a result, the district court held that Mr. Clark’s claims could not survive summary judgment and dismissed his claims.

Mr. Clark appealed, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. The court held that the district court’s decision to exclude the testimony “represented a reasonable assessment of the proposed evidence,” agreeing with the lower court that the expert’s methodology was “unclear” and “conclusory.”

The appellate court also agreed with the district court’s assessment that the expert lacked knowledge of the crushing machine in question.

Although Mr. Clark argued that the need for some safeguards on the machine was obvious enough that he should have been able to proceed without the expert testimony, the appellate court disagreed, holding that in this case, the issue could not be resolved “exclusivity on the basis of common experience.”

The attorney for Mr. Clark did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An attorney for the defendants declined to comment.

This article was first published by Business Insurance.

Leave a Reply