Fahey v. Rockwell Graphic Systems, Inc.

Decision Date02 October 1985
Citation20 Mass.App.Ct. 642,482 N.E.2d 519
CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts
Parties, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 10,720 Robert W. FAHEY et al. 1 v. ROCKWELL GRAPHIC SYSTEMS, INC., et al. 2

Andre A. Sansoucy, Boston, (Cynthia J. Cohen, Boston, with him) for plaintiffs.

Richard K. Donahue, Lowell, for Rockwell Graphic Systems, Inc.

John D. Dwyer, Boston, for Roland Offsetmaschinenfabrik.

Before GRANT, CUTTER and WARNER, JJ.

WARNER, Justice.

On January 24, 1977, Robert W. Fahey, a pressman employed by Acme Printing Company (Acme), sustained injuries to his right arm when it was pulled into and crushed by a printing press designed and manufactured by the defendant Roland Offsetmaschinenfabrik (Roland) and distributed by the defendant Rockwell Graphic Systems, Inc. (Rockwell). Fahey and his wife sought damages against Roland and Rockwell on theories of negligent design and breach of warranty 3 and against Rockwell on a theory of negligent instruction. At the close of the plaintiffs' case before a Superior Court jury, the judge directed verdicts for the defendants. 4 The plaintiffs appeal from the ensuing judgments, arguing error in the allowance of the motions for directed verdicts and in certain evidentiary rulings.

In reviewing the directed verdicts for the defendants we construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs in order to determine whether " 'anywhere in the evidence, from whatever source derived, any combination of circumstances could be found from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the plaintiff[s].' " Poirier v. Plymouth, 374 Mass. 206, 212, 372 N.E.2d 212 (1978), quoting from Raunela v. Hertz Corp., 361 Mass. 341, 343, 280 N.E.2d 179 (1972).

We summarize the evidence most favorable to the plaintiffs. As originally designed and manufactured, the printing press was equipped with a guard to protect press operators from a nip point, an in-running juncture between two adjacent cylinders moving in opposite directions. The guard was designed to shield the nip point and automatically stop the press when touched. It was screwed into place and was not designed to be removed for press operation or maintenance. On the day of Fahey's injury, however, the guard was not on the press. It had been removed by Fahey some three weeks earlier.

The guard was affixed to the main frame of the press, an apparently unusual location. On other presses it was attached to the lower unit inker. Although the guard adequately shielded the nip point, its location had the effect of decreasing productivity by interfering with the efficient mounting of press plates. It forced pressman to stand off-balance while changing plates, 5 and necessitated the efforts of two pressmen for plate mounting when previously one had sufficed. The guard's location also resulted in plate scratching and interference with press greasing. Due to the guard's position, it took half an hour to change plates (make-ready time). By comparison, on a press on which the guard was attached to the lower unit inker that operation took only five minutes. This delay added approximately one hour to each make-ready time, which over the course of a week could amount to five or more additional hours in production time. The result was that Fahey was unable to meet management's expected make-ready time.

Fahey and his assistant pressman, Michael McCorry, alerted Acme to these problems. Fahey similarly complained to Aime Carrier, a Rockwell employee whose duties included installing and servicing presses distributed by Rockwell and instructing pressmen on the operations and functions of the presses. Fahey told Carrier that he wanted to move the guard because its location increased make-ready time and caused scratching on the plates. 6 Later, Carrier notified Rockwell concerning this complaint. 7

Soon after Fahey's conversation with Carrier, Fahey and McCorry took the guard off the press by removing a number of screws. This procedure, by Fahey's own estimate, took approximately fifteen to twenty minutes. With the guard removed, the nip point between the two cylinders was fully exposed.

Approximately three weeks after removing the guard, Fahey attempted to remove a hickey 8 from a plate with his thumb while the press was in operation. Removing hickies on plates by this method was a common technique of pressmen. 9 Fahey had used the method "hundreds" of times without incident. While he was attempting to remove the hickey, the nip point caught Fahey's hand, pulling his arm between the cylinders and crushing it. Had the guard been in place at the time of the accident, the nip point would have been inaccessible, and the guard, if touched, would have tripped a switch, shutting down the press.

At the time of his injury, Fahey had been working at Acme for ten years. For three of those years he had been an assistant pressman. Later, he was promoted to the position of pressman and exercised supervisory responsibilities over a press crew. He had been a pressman for four years at the time of his injury. He had, however, worked on this particular type of press for only one month prior to the time he removed the guard.

Fahey knew the danger of an exposed, in-running nip point. He admitted that had the guard been in place, his hand could not have reached the nip point. He recognized that the nip point presented "some danger" but was unaware of the potential for "grave danger" and serious injury. Fahey did not know that his arm would be pulled into the machine and was unaware of the magnitude of harm that would ensue.

Fahey never read any safety bulletin concerning press operations. He could not recall ever having been instructed by his employer regarding safety precautions. He was "generally aware" of posted warnings on the press which, among things, cautioned:

"BE SURE PRESS IS COMPLETELY STOPPED BEFORE TOUCHING ANY OPERATING PART OF THE PRESS."

* * *

* * *

"ALL GUARDS AND COVERS MUST BE SECURELY LOCKED IN PLACE WHEN PRESS IS IN OPERATION."

The guard could have been located on the lower unit inker instead of the main press frame. In fact, following Fahey's injury, Rockwell had the guard moved from the main frame to the lower unit inker on both this press and other presses. Attached to the lower unit inker, the guard covered the nip point equally well, increased efficiency, and posed no disadvantage. The guard could also have been equipped with interlocks. 10

An essential safety design principle of nip point guarding is to make the hazard inaccessible. This involves a recognition that if a guard interferes with a press operator's tasks it is likely to be removed. Whenever possible a guard should be designed so that it cannot be removed, or placed so that there will be no incentive to remove it.

1. The negligent design theory. A manufacturer is under a duty to design a machine with reasonable care, doCanto v. Ametek, Inc., 367 Mass. 776, 782, 328 N.E.2d 873 (1975), Uloth v. City Tank Corp., 376 Mass. 874, 878, 378 N.E.2d 1188 (1978), and is held to the standard of an ordinary reasonably prudent designer in like circumstances, Back v. Wickes Corp., 375 Mass. 633, 643, 378 N.E.2d 964 (1978), Pignone v. Santa Anita Mfg. Corp., 17 Mass.App. 944, 457 N.E.2d 642 (1983). The product must be designed with reasonable care to eliminate avoidable dangers, Uloth v. City Tank Corp., supra. See doCanto v. Ametek, Inc., supra. See also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 398 (1965). It is, therefore, incumbent on the designer to "anticipate the environment in which its product will be used, and ... design against the reasonably foreseeable risks attending the product's use in that setting." Bernier v. Boston Edison Co., 380 Mass. 372, 378, 403 N.E.2d 39 (1980), quoting from Back v. Wickes Corp., supra at 640-641, 378 N.E.2d 964, McLeod v. White Motor Corp., 9 Mass.App. 132, 135, 399 N.E.2d 890 (1980). This expansive duty reflects a social policy of casting an "increased responsibility upon the manufacturer, who stands in a superior position to recognize and cure defects, for improper conduct in the placement of finished products into the channels of commerce." Uloth v. City Tank Corp., supra at 881, 378 N.E.2d 1178.

Designing a product that functions as intended, is accompanied by warnings, and whose danger is obvious will not necessarily preclude a finding of liability for negligent design. Ibid. "[T]here is a case for the jury if the plaintiff can show an available design modification which would reduce the risk without undue cost or interference with the performance of the machinery." Ibid. In evaluating the adequacy of a product's design, the jury must weigh "the gravity of the danger posed by the challenged design, the likelihood that such danger would occur, the mechanical feasibility of a safer alternative design, the financial cost of an improved design, and the adverse consequences to the product and to the consumer that would result from an alternative design." Back v. Wickes Corp., 375 Mass. at 642, 378 N.E.2d 964, quoting from Barker v. Lull Engr. Co., 20 Cal.3d 413, 431, 143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443 (1978). Pignone v. Santa Anita Mfg. Corp., supra, 17 Mass.App. at 457 N.E.2d 642. See McLeod v. White Motor Corp., supra at 135-136, 399 N.E.2d 890; Torre v. Harris-Seybold Co., 9 Mass.App. 660, 678, 404 N.E.2d 96 (1980).

The evidence in this case warranted findings that: (1) the placement of the guard significantly increased production time, caused pressman to stand off-balance while changing plates, resulted in plate scratching and interfered with press greasing; (2) an essential principle of press safety design is a recognition that guards that interfere with pressmen's tasks are likely to be removed; (3) removal of the guard on this press would expose a dangerous nip point; and (4) pressmen commonly remove hickies by hand on operating...

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