Derrick v. Yoder Co.

Decision Date16 September 1980
Docket NumberNo. 79-910,79-910
Citation410 N.E.2d 1030,43 Ill.Dec. 897,88 Ill.App.3d 864
Parties, 43 Ill.Dec. 897 Michael DERRICK, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. The YODER COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

French & Rogers, Chicago (Richard G. French and Michael C. Kominiarek, Chicago, of counsel), for defendant-appellant.

Cooney & Stenn, Chicago (Robert J. Cooney and James T. Newman, Chicago, of counsel), for plaintiff-appellee.

HARTMAN, Justice:

As damages for the loss of his right arm almost to the shoulder, a jury awarded plaintiff, Michael Lance Derrick ("Derrick") $444,000, having found defendant Yoder Company ("Yoder") guilty of defectively designing and manufacturing a metal slitting system in a products liability action. Yoder appeals, presenting as issues for review whether: (1) Derrick assumed the risk of injury; (2) the design of the machine was reasonably safe when used for the purpose intended; (3) the product performed as might reasonably have been expected in light of its nature and intended function and therefore was not unreasonably dangerous; and (4) Yoder was under a duty to design and manufacture a product incapable of causing injury when an alternative design was neither feasible, effective, practicable nor technologically possible at the relevant time. For the reasons which follow, we affirm.

Derrick was employed by Leavitt Tube Company ("Leavitt") as a slitter helper in a tube production facility in which three slitting lines were operated, each of which employed a slitting machine designed and manufactured by Yoder. The machine involved in this case was designated "No. 3" and was similar in make-up to the other two. The slitting machine transformed flat steel material, as wide as forty-eight inches, coiled in the form of a roll having a diameter as great as seventy-two inches, into smaller strips or strands and recoiled onto another drum in one, continuous operation. These strands would later be shaped into tubing. Each slitting line possessed three major components. At the starting end of the line was located a drum on which a roll of uncut flat steel was secured. From this point it was uncoiled from the roll on a horizontal plane at about four feet above floor level and drawn through the second component consisting of slitting knives positioned above and below the material, similar to scissors, as it passed through. The slitting knives cut through the flat steel creating the strips or strands of a desired width and occasionally resulted in the development of metal burrs or slivers, from one-fourth inch to four inches long, hanging onto the cut edges of the individual strands. The resulting strands were drawn further along the horizontal plane to the terminal end of the system consisting of a single, common drum on which the strands were recoiled once again, this time into individual strand rolls.

The motor-driven recoiler supplied the drawing power and movement through the slitting process and onto the recoiler. Tension created by the winding recoiler also assisted in the formation of straight sided individual strand coils. If proper tension was not maintained, the individual coils would fall apart and could not be removed in usable form from the recoiler drum. Upon successful completion of the process, the individual coils, now fully wound on the common recoiler drum, were removed for further processing into tubes. Frequently, before reaching the recoiler, individual strands would sag below the horizontal line, which was symptomatic of a deficiency in strand tension. To re-establish tension in those coils, paper strips of varying lengths would be inserted in the developing individual sagging strand at the pinch point created where the strands met the developing coil being wound onto the recoiler drum. The strands ran over and onto the drum from above so that the inward pinch point was beneath the horizontal strands about to be wound. The slitting and winding process was conducted at a considerably high speed, varying as the diameters of the coils built up on the recoiler drum, and ranging from 150 feet of material per minute when the drum was bare to 450 feet per minute at the maximum size of the coil. All three slitting lines were operated twenty-four hours per day and six days per week at Leavitt. A slitter helper, such as Derrick, maintained surveillance of the steel strands to assure tight recoil rolls.

The cost of slitter No. 3 was $164,044.40. Yoder, through its engineers and sales personnel who visited Leavitt and witnessed its operation, knew of the dangers attendant to the hand stuffing of paper at the recoiler. It warned purchasers of its machines against that practice and sent explanatory written material to them for their own knowledge and for dissemination to their employees. No safety devices or guards of any kind were designed or placed by Yoder at the danger area of the inward pinch point to prevent the hand stuffing of paper because, Yoder's manager of engineering asserted, Yoder did not know how to design an effective guard for that area. No warning signs were affixed by Yoder to the machines in the danger area to remind a slitter helper of the impending danger or likelihood of injury. Although decal stickers were sent by Yoder to Leavitt to be affixed to the machine, whatever warning was given on the decals or where they were to be placed cannot be ascertained in the record.

Three tensioning devices manufactured by Yoder, designed to take up slack and maintain the necessary coil tautness, ranged in additional cost from $4,200 to $70,000. The least costly was a semi-automatic paper stuffer and the most expensive was a roll tension stand which employed an adjustable pinch roll arrangement including rolls, gears and drag generator or brake automatically producing the necessary tension. No device was affixed as a standard component to the machine sold to Leavitt but one was available only as optional equipment. A paper stuffer had been purchased by Leavitt for machine No. 1 some years previous, following an accident in which another employee's arm was severed during the operation. No such devices were purchased by Leavitt from Yoder for machine Nos. 2 and 3 until after Derrick's mishap, at which time paper stuffers were also secured for them.

The Yoder paper stuffer is positioned on rails or tracks running on the floor underneath the machine between the slitting and the recoiling operations, at an intersecting angle to the strands of metal above. Strips of paper emerge sideways from a flat nozzle type device aimed by the operator at the inward pinch point of the sagging strand. The operator of this device can stand away from the danger point, position the nozzle, and push a button in order to dispense the necessary paper into the appropriate pinch point. This device was available in 1969, the same year in which slitter No. 3 was sold by Yoder to Leavitt. Slitter helpers employed by Leavitt testified that Yoder's paper stuffing machine did not work properly from twenty to fifty percent of the time, frequently jamming or failing to roll correctly on its tracks, requiring the hand stuffing of paper for the balance of the time. Leavitt declined to purchase paper stuffing devices from Yoder when it bought slitters Nos. 2 and 3 primarily because the machine was cumbersome, inconvenient to use, frequently jammed and was not compatible with Leavitt's use of the slitter.

A safety device designed by a different company, Pneu Powr, guarded the point of danger involved in this accident, according to plaintiff's evidence. It came to the attention of Leavitt's chief engineer and plant manager several months after Derrick's accident through reading a magazine article. A defense witness stated that it did not become available until April or May of 1974. The device permitted slitter helpers to place paper strips into a three/eighths inch slot and blocked their hands from getting into the area of the inward pinch point of the recoiler. The Pneu Powr device when installed positioned itself automatically, rising with the steel coils as they built up on the recoiler drum. It did not slow down production and its cost was from $1,000 to $1,500. A slitter helper would still have to crouch under the moving steel strands as they rolled onto the recoiler even with the safety device. According to the defense, the Pneu Powr device was not recommended by an ad hoc committee of the American National Standards Institute which promulgated and developed safety standards for machine tool manufacturers because the device required an additional work station and the operator would still have to be under the running strips stuffing paper, which was an invitation for some person to enter a hazardous area and create a pinch point equally dangerous to the one that existed.

Derrick was twenty-eight years old at the time the accident occurred and had been educated through high school. While in high school he was employed as a driller on the body construction line by Ford Motor Company. He worked as a burr operator for Leavitt in 1969, a job which involved rounding off the ends of finished tubing. Thereafter, he worked in the slitting department where he was trained for four to six months by experienced slitter helpers. He was required to feed paper into the slack strands manually when he worked on slitters Nos. 2 and 3. He never saw any written instructions or an operator's manual as to how to perform his work, was never told not to feed paper by hand and was trained to do just that.

On the date of the accident, the steel was running very fast and Derrick had to stuff paper into about every coil in order to assure tight winding. No other method was provided on slitter No. 3 where he was working. The paper was thin, was from one inch and one-half to two inches wide, and was torn into strips twenty-four to thirty-six inches long, depending on the need, from a...

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