409 F.3d 846 (7th Cir. 2005), 04-2146, Mesman v. Crane Pro Services, a Div. of Konecranes, Inc.

Docket Nº:04-2146.
Citation:409 F.3d 846
Party Name:John MESMAN and Judy Mesman, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CRANE PRO SERVICES, a DIVISION OF KONECRANES, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:May 31, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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409 F.3d 846 (7th Cir. 2005)

John MESMAN and Judy Mesman, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

CRANE PRO SERVICES, a DIVISION OF KONECRANES, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 04-2146.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

May 31, 2005

Argued Jan. 7, 2005.

Rehearing and Petition for Rehearing En Banc Denied July 26, 2005.

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Kenneth J. Allen (argued), Michael T. Terwilliger, Allen & Associates, Valparaiso, IN, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Byron D. Knight (argued), Elizabeth A. Knight, Knight, Hoppe, Kurnik & Knight, Des Plaines, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before POSNER, RIPPLE, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

POSNER, Circuit Judge.

John Mesman, an employee at the Indiana plant of Infra-Metals, a manufacturer of steel products, lost one leg and suffered a serious injury to the other when a load of steel sheets that he was unloading from a boxcar fell on him from the crane that was lifting the sheets out of the boxcar. He and his wife (she complaining of loss of consortium) brought suit in an Indiana state court under Indiana's products liability law against the firm that had rebuilt the crane, Konecranes, which removed the case to federal district court. A jury awarded the plaintiffs a large verdict, but the judge set it aside and entered judgment for the defendant, further ruling that if this was wrong the defendant was entitled to a new trial because the jury had been confused by irrelevant evidence and had ignored critical instructions.

The case, filed five years ago, is actually quite simple. It has been badly handled by all concerned. There was no basis for the entry of judgment for the defendant; but with reluctance in light of the age of the case, we must sustain the judge's alternative ruling granting the defendant a new trial.

Built into the plant was a very old crane, which Infra-Metals wanted renovated, for unloading steel sheets from the rail siding that ran into the plant. The crane consisted of the following parts: a beam, called the "bridge," fastened to the plant's ceiling directly above the rail siding; a hoist, suspended from the beam, which the operator of the crane could move sideways along the bridge, as well as up and down to do

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the lifting; another beam, called the "spreader beam," connected to the hoist; chains connecting each end of the spreader beam to "scoops" for gripping the load; and attached to the bridge an operator's cab.

Konecranes engineers visited the plant and watched the crane in operation. The most problematic feature, they would have noticed, was that when a boxcar was being unloaded underneath the section of the bridge to which the cab was attached, there was only a foot or two of clearance between the rim of the boxcar and the cab overhead. And if while being lifted by the hoist the spreader beam struck the cab, the load might be jarred loose and fall, hitting anyone standing beneath it.

The renovation undertaken by Konecranes did not involve changing the physical structure that we have described. So far as relates to this case, the most significant alteration was to substitute for the controls in the operator's cab a hand-held remote-control device with which the operator would operate the crane from ground level. To raise the load he would press the up button on the device and to lower it he would press the down button. With the cab no longer being used for anything, it could have been removed to eliminate the danger of its being struck by the spreader beam. Konecranes did not remove the cab; instead it installed alongside the up and down buttons on the remote-control device an emergency-stop button, so that if the operator sensed an impending collision between the load and the cab he could bring the spreader beam to an immediate dead stop by pressing that button. Alternatively, by pressing the down button he could reverse the direction of the hoist; but because the up and down control had a deceleration feature to reduce wear and tear on the crane, the spreader beam would continue to rise for three seconds after the down button was pressed, traversing in that period about a foot, until it stopped and began its reverse motion. Thus, pressing the down button would not arrest the upward motion of the spreader beam and load as fast as pressing the emergency-stop button would.

Konecranes also built into the renovated crane a limit switch that would automatically stop the spreader beam from rising when it came too near the bridge. But the switch was set to prevent the spreader beam from touching the bridge where the cab was not attached. To prevent the spreader beam from touching the cab, the limit would have had to be set much lower--too low for convenient unloading of boxcars that were underneath any other section of the bridge. Thus, as set, the limit switch did nothing to prevent a collision between the load and the cab.

On the day of the accident, the crane operator, Van Til, was standing about 20 feet away from a boxcar that was underneath the abandoned cab. Mesman, standing in the boxcar, fastened a load of steel sheets to the...

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