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WORKER RECOVERS $5M IN THIRD-PARTY CASE DESPITE SUBSTANTIAL SPECIAL EMPLOYER NEGLIGENCE

$500,000 REFERRAL FEE PAID TO WORK-COMP ATTORNEY


Family PhotoRamiro Guzman, age 20, was a temporary employee assigned by Staffmark, Inc. to work at AMF/Tridien as a foam puncher making medical products.  On March 2, 2013, he had filled up a cart with scrap foam and wheeled the cart outside onto a platform leading to a horizontal baler where foam was dumped into it and compacted into bales.  During the process of dumping a cart of scrap foam, plaintiff’s left foot became caught in a hole in a foam mat that was being pulled into the baler.  Once plaintiff was pulled inside the baler, he had a few seconds to try to extricate himself but he could not get out of the baler.  There were no emergency stopping devices nearby.  The ram closed on his thighs causing the amputation of both of his legs. Plaintiff filed a product liability case against Excel Manufacturing, Inc., the designer and manufacturer and JM Hydraulics, Inc., the seller and installer of the baler which was sold in 1998 to AMF/Tridien. Plaintiff claimed that the defendants knew the baler was going to be used exclusively to compress scrap foam which would need to be hand-loaded.  The baler was sold to AMF/Tridien without a conveyor or a dump-cart system. In 2011, AMF/Tridien built a platform that led to the feed hopper opening so that carts of scrap foam could be dumped into the feed hopper.  AMF/Tridien did not provide a barrier guard, interlocked gate, or emergency stopping devices when they installed the platform.


Injuries Defendants claimed that the horizontal baler was intended to be fed while standing on the ground and that the platform should not have been installed.  Plaintiff discovered an Excel video made in 1995 for a similar model baler that showed a worker standing on an elevation hand-loading scrap into the feed hopper.  This Excel video proved that hand-loading using a platform was foreseeable to Excel.  An interlocked gate was not offered by Excel or JM Hydraulics to surround the baler feed hopper.  An interlocked gate would need to be open which would disconnect the power to the ram.  The interlocked gate would need to be closed for the ram to compress.  The ANSI 1997 Standard describes the use of interlocks.  The 1997 ANSI Standard did not require an interlocked gate around the feed hopper, however it is a voluntary standard and did not preclude Excel from installing one. 


Machine The risk of inadvertent or accidental contact with the feed hopper opening was foreseeable to Excel.  The Centers for Disease Control identified 34 baler deaths from 1992 to 1998, 29 of which (85%) occurred when a worker was caught or crushed by the compacting ram of a baler.  Other US government publications including NIOSH Alerts recognized that workers loading or working near balers are at risk for serious injury and death, and that balers should be equipped with interlocks. Defendant Excel had no writings evidencing any hazard/risk analysis or any safety analysis regarding inadvertent or accidental contact with the feed hopper.  Excel merely installed a label on the baler that said “Never enter or reach into baling chamber.”  The main power shutoff lever and a red emergency stop button on the Excel baler were located too far away from the feed hopper to access in an emergency.  The ANSI 1997 Standard required an emergency stopping device at any point shall be provided.  OSHA §4353(a) required emergency stopping devices at any point that must be readily accessible in an emergency situation. Defendants blamed AMF/Tridien for installing the platform and not installing an interlocked gate or emergency stopping devices.  AMF/Tridien had no training program or procedures regarding dumping carts of scrap foam.  Defendants also blamed the baler operator who left on a personal emergency and did not shut off the baler.  Defendants claimed that there were two witnesses who saw plaintiff jumping in the baler before the accident.  Their depositions revealed that the person they saw weighed far less than the plaintiff who weighed 325 pounds. Ramiro Guzman lost both of his legs above the knees.  He uses a wheelchair as he has not been able to master the use of prosthetic devices due to his size.  He has severe psychological problems.

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