22 Cal.App.3d 188, 37428, Thompson v. Package Machinery Co.

Docket Nº37428
Citation22 Cal.App.3d 188, 99 Cal.Rptr. 281
Opinion Judge[10] Herndon
Party NameThompson v. Package Machinery Co.
Attorney[7] Kenneth L. Knapp and Leonard Sacks for Plaintiff and Appellant. [8] George A. Kuittinen and Jean Wunderlich for Defendant and Respondent.
Case DateDecember 20, 1971
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals

Page 188

22 Cal.App.3d 188

99 Cal.Rptr. 281

Linda Joy THOMPSON, Plaintiff and Appellant,

v.

PACKAGE MACHINERY COMPANY, Defendant and Respondent.

Civ. 37428.

California Court of Appeal, Second District, Second Division

Dec. 20, 1971.

As Modified Jan. 14, 1972.

Page 189

Kenneth L. Knapp, Los Angeles, and Leonard Sacks, Pico Rivera, for appellant.

George A. Kuittinen and Jean Wunderlich, Los Angeles, for respondent.

Page 190

HERNDON, Associate Justice.

Plaintiff brought this action seeking recovery of damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by her as a result of the defective design of a machine manufactured by defendant's predecessor. She invokes the doctrine of strict liability.

The case was tried with a jury which returned a verdict for the defendant. Plaintiff appeals from the judgment contending that there were prejudicial errors in the trial court's instructions. We have concluded that there is merit in plaintiff's contentions and that a new trial should be ordered.

Statement Of The Facts

At the time of her injury, plaintiff, who was then 20 years old, was employed by a plastic molding company as a machine operator. The subject machine is a closing ram type in which the ram closes and exerts great pressure against a platen, thereby molding the plastic material which is injected into the machine for that purpose. After the plastic is thus molded, the machine opens, and the operator manually removes the molded material. This cycle occurs every 20 seconds during the eight hour working day.

The machine is equipped with a gate which slides along a rail in front of the moving parts. When the gate is in the open position, its weight depresses one of two safety levers which prevent the ram from closing and striking against the platen. While the gate is in the open position, the operator removes the finished part from the die.

When the gate is closed by manually pushing it to the right, thus preventing access to the moving die parts, the first of the two safety levers is released and automatically moves into the 'go' position. The die parts will then close when the second lever is manually turned to the right by the operator. Thus, the ram will close and strike against the platen only when both levers have been forced into the 'go' position--the first by the closing of the gate with the operator's left hand, and the other when it is turned to the right with the right hand.

The accident in question occurred when plaintiff opened the gate and, as usual, reached inside the machine to remove the plastic which had been molded. The machine closed prematurely causing an injury which resulted in the amputation of plaintiff's hand and part of her arm.

The lever that should have held the ram in the locked position by the weight of the gate in its open position was not depressed because the gate

Page 191

had jumped off its slide, thus bypassing that lever. The other lever was moved into the 'go' position by plaintiff, either Intentionally in order to speed up the cycle as defendant sought to prove, or Accidentally by her leaning against it as indicated by plaintiff's version of the accident.

Plaintiff alleged two design defects which, according to her theory of the case, rendered the machine unreasonably dangerous and caused the accident resulting in her injury. Firstly, she alleged that the roller which was designed to keep the gate on the slide was not strong enough to serve its purpose, and, secondly, she alleged that the 'go' lever activated by the operator's right hand was not adequately protected against accidental engagement. Plaintiff, by way of expert testimony, introduced evidence tending to support her theory that the machine's safety devices were inadequate due to their defective design.

Defendant's position was that the gate, if dangerous at all, became so only because of a modification made after it had left the factory. In addition, defendant contended that the machine was not used in the manner it was intended to be used in that plaintiff activated the 'go'...

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