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Reduced settlement for defense in conveyor belt accident

A gravel pit in Rhode Island proved to be the site of a dramatic injury case that recently came to the attention of TA. The case involved machinery used in screening gravel, including a hopper, various conveyor belts and vibrating screens through which the gravel falls and can be collected in various sizes.

The conveyor belt at issue was driven by pulleys and kept in a locked area to prevent injury to employees. One day, due to sloppy oversight, the door to the belt was left unlocked. One of the workmen on the job noticed sand falling on the belt and proceeded to brush it off with his hand without first shutting down the machine. The result: his arm was caught between the tail pulley and drive belt and was mangled before his coworkers could extricate it. Eventually it had to be amputated.

The employee decided to sue the manufacturer of the machine for many millions of dollars, claiming that the machine should have had additional internal guards and an interlock so that it would not operate with the pulley drive door open.

TA was retained by a legal defense team headed by Joseph Stella, of Morris and Stella in Chicago, on behalf of the manufacturer. Dr. Ojalvo was able to show that considering the lack of electrical power in the field, and the harsh, dirty environment of the gravel pit, it was not technically feasible for the manufacturer to come up with a workable interlock. The machinery manufacturer had implemented the safest solution by providing a way to conceal the belt and lock it away from the operator. What caused the tragic accident was comparable to opening the hood of a car and thoughtlessly sticking one’s hand into the moving fan without first shutting off the motor. Dr. Ojalvo also argued that the machine was in the charge of the employer’s maintenance personnel, thus emphasizing that the employer was primarily at fault and not the manufacturer. The case was settled out of court for a sum considerably lower than that originally requested by the plaintiff.