Young v. Pollock Engineering Group, Inc., No. 04-3428.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBenton
Citation428 F.3d 786
PartiesRoyce YOUNG, Appellant, v. POLLOCK ENGINEERING GROUP, INC.; Pollock Research and Design, Inc.; Computech, a sole proprietorship; and Lewis L. Deland, an individual, Appellees.
Decision Date15 November 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04-3428.
428 F.3d 786
Royce YOUNG, Appellant,
v.
POLLOCK ENGINEERING GROUP, INC.; Pollock Research and Design, Inc.; Computech, a sole proprietorship; and Lewis L. Deland, an individual, Appellees.
No. 04-3428.
United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.
Submitted: May 9, 2005.
Filed: November 15, 2005.

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Wilbur W. Fluegel, argued, Minneapolis, MN (James G. VanderLinden and Robert P. Christensen, Minneapolis, MN and James O. Miller, Edina, MN, on the brief), for appellant.

William L. Moran, argued, St. Paul, MN, for appellee.

Before BENTON, LAY, and FAGG, Circuit Judges.

BENTON, Circuit Judge.


Royce Dale Young was injured while working as a "die man" at Alexandria Extrusion Company (AEC). A die man loads dies into a die changer, here manufactured by Pollock Engineering Group, Inc. A co-employee operates the die changer from a control panel, which was provided by Computech about three years after the installation of the die changer. Once activated, the die changer inserts dies into an extrusion press.

On the night of the injury, Young was loading dies into the die changer while Robbie Joe Betterman operated the control panel. Not intending any harm, Betterman activated the die changer, severely injuring Young's left hand. AEC later installed a "barrier guard" or barrier fence around the die changer.1

Invoking diversity jurisdiction, Young sued Pollock for negligence and strict liability in defectively designing the die changer. Young also sued for failure to warn of the dangers associated with the product. The district court granted summary judgment to Pollock, Computech, and Lewis L. Deland on all counts. On appeal, Young attacks the judgment only as to Pollock. This court affirms the summary judgment on the failure-to-warn claim, but reverses as to the defective-design claims.

I.

This court reviews de novo a grant of summary judgment, applying the same standard as the district court. See Essco Geometric v. Harvard Indus., 46 F.3d 718, 729 (8th Cir.1995). Summary judgment is affirmed where there is no genuine issue of material fact, and judgment is appropriate as a matter of law. See id., citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). This court construes the facts in favor of the non-moving party. See RSBI Aerospace, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 49 F.3d 399, 401 (8th Cir.1995), citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

A plaintiff asserting defective design under Minnesota law must establish that the defendant's product "was in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous for its intended use." See Bilotta v. Kelley Co., 346 N.W.2d 616, 623 n. 3 (Minn.

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1984) (en banc), citing Lee v. Crookston Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 290 Minn. 321, 188 N.W.2d 426, 432 (Minn.1971). To determine whether there is enough evidence to submit the claim to a jury, the court must balance "the likelihood of harm, and the gravity of harm if it happens, against the burden of the precaution which would be effective to avoid the harm." See Bilotta, 346 N.W.2d at 621, quoting Holm v. Sponco, 324 N.W.2d 207, 212 (Minn.1982) (en banc). See generally Trost v. Trek Bicycle Corp., 162 F.3d 1004, 1009 (8th Cir.1998) (summarizing Minnesota law).

An important factor in this balancing test is the availability of a feasible, safer alternative design. See Kallio v. Ford Motor Co., 407 N.W.2d 92, 96 (Minn.1987) (en banc). Only in rare cases do defective-design claims succeed without showing a safer design. See id. at 97 n. 8. "Conceivably, rare cases may exist where the product may be judged unreasonably dangerous because it should be removed from the market rather than be redesigned." Id. In Minnesota, "successful plaintiffs, almost without fail, introduce evidence of an alternative safer design." Id. at 95 n. 6 (citing cases).

Young relies on the affidavits of two expert witnesses, both mechanical engineers. Tarald O. Kvalseth, Ph.D., states that a number of feasible, safer designs could have prevented Young's injuries. As an example, Pollock could have installed a barrier guard like the one installed after Young's injuries. Dr. Kvalseth states that the barrier guard could be an effective safety device when used with an "interlock switch" that disables the die changer while the gate to the barrier guard is open. J. Kenneth Blundell, Ph.D., agrees that an alternative design could have prevented Young's injuries. Like Dr. Kvalseth, he proposes a barrier guard with an interlock switch.

Although acknowledging the experts' opinions, the district court granted summary judgment on the defective-design claims. The district court holds:

[Young] does not contest that his proposed safety enhancements are external work area modifications available for purchase "off the shelf," rather than mechanisms incorporated into the design of the die changer or "permanently attached to" the product. Huber v. Niagara Mach. & Tool Works, 430 N.W.2d 465, 466 (Minn.1988) (en banc). This fact readily distinguishes the instant case from that relied on by [Young], in which the court found a manufacturer could be liable for defective design based upon exclusion of an integral safety component from some of its models. Bilotta, 346 N.W.2d at 622, 624-25. Young does not suggest or reference an alternative die changer design that includes a safety device, and cites no authority for his proposition that the failure to recommend external safeguards made by different manufacturers can constitute a defect in design. Accordingly, his claim is appropriately one of failure to warn and it will be addressed as such. Summary judgment for Pollock is thus warranted on the issue of defective design.

The district court's reasoning is erroneous in two respects. First, Young did not concede that his proposed modifications should not have been incorporated into the design of the die changer. In written suggestions Young argued: "Plaintiff's experts have identified other feasible safety devices that could have been used to safeguard the Die Changer, and which should have been incorporated by Pollock in its original design of the product." (emphasis added). Young restated his position during oral argument in the district court.

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Young's position is supported by the affidavits of his expert witnesses, who advocate alternative designs of the die changer itself. In the same sentence where Dr. Kvalseth says that the proposed safety modifications are available "off the shelf," he also states that Pollock should have incorporated them into the die-changer design. Dr. Blundell agrees in his affidavit and attached report.

Pollock counters that during his deposition, Dr. Kvalseth agreed: he was not proposing modifications to the functioning or configuration of the "die slide itself"; and, his proposed modifications were not "physically attached" to the die slide. However, Dr. Kvalseth later said in his deposition that industry standards do not permit a manufacturer to "design an extrusion press and just leave out guards." Dr. Kvalseth's deposition, interpreted in Young's favor, says that the die changer itself was unreasonably dangerous.

Dr. Blundell's deposition, interpreted in Young's favor, is to the same effect. Dr. Blundell, after opining that the manufacturer should provide safeguards, testified that Pollock should have examined the die changer for pinch-point hazards and identified the lack of safeguards.

Pollock argues that the experts' testimony is inadmissible because they failed to take measurements to determine the feasibility of the safety modifications they propose. Testimony may be excluded if an expert fails to explain how a proposed safety modification would protect the machine's operators without compromising the machine's utility. See Unrein v. Timesavers, Inc., 394 F.3d 1008, 1012 (8th Cir.2005) (holding that the district court properly excluded Dr. Kvalseth's testimony regarding an industrial sander). However, in this case the experts did not need to conduct a detailed feasibility study of the barrier guard because AEC had installed the barrier guard and used it successfully with the die changer. Both experts explained that the barrier guard—used with a simple switch to cut the power to the die changer while the gate of the barrier guard is open—would be an effective safety device. In sum, Young presented admissible evidence supporting his allegation that the die changer itself was defective and unreasonably dangerous. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

Second, the district court erroneously concluded that Minnesota law recognizes a distinction between external work area modifications and integral safeguards, in design defect cases. For that conclusion, the district court cites Huber, which was not a defective design case. Rather, it held that the manufacturer of a component foot switch with a "permanently attached" safety device did not have the duty to warn users that the safety device should not be removed. See Huber, 430 N.W.2d at 466.

The closest Minnesota authority is Harmon Contract Glazing, Inc. v. Libby-Owens-Ford Co., 493 N.W.2d 146, 149 (Minn.Ct.App.1992), which held that the plaintiff could not recover for defective design of a shipping brace that secured glass panes during transit because the brace was not an "integral part of the product itself." Id. Unlike the brace in Harmon, the barrier guard Young proposes would have been integrated into the product during its normal use. See Cerepak v. Revlon, Inc., 294 Minn. 268, 200 N.W.2d 33 (1972) (deodorant bottle); Holkestad v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Minn., Inc., 288 Minn. 249, 180 N.W.2d 860 (1970) (en banc) (soft-drink bottle).

Other than these cases, the distinction — "external" versus "integral" or "internal" — does not appear in the Minnesota cases. In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate as a matter of

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law, this court therefore follows the leading case, Bilotta,...

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  • Wadlington v. Werlich, Case No. 17-cv-449-SMY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. Southern District of Illinois
    • 7 Abril 2020
    ...court's error did not "seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings[.]" Wadlington, 428 F.3d at 786. Specifically, the court first concluded that "the evidence presented at trial overwhelmingly supported the district court's adoption of the pres......
  • In re Testosterone Replacement Therapy Prods. Liab. Litig. Coordinated Pretrial Proceedings, Case No. 14 C 1748
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • 30 Diciembre 2019
    ...design is not a required element of a design defect claim. See Kallio , 407 N.W.2d 92 at 96-97 & n.8 ; Young v. Pollock Eng'g Grp., Inc. , 428 F.3d 786, 789 (8th Cir. 2005) ; Kruszka , 19 F. Supp. 3d at 897. Minnesota courts, however, have stated that plaintiffs will rarely prevail without ......
  • Thompson v. Hirano Tecseed Co., Ltd., No. 05-2813.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 1 Agosto 2006
    ...precaution which would be effective to avoid the harm"), quoting Bilotta, 346 N.W.2d at 621. See also Young v. Pollock Eng'g Group, Inc., 428 F.3d 786, 788-89 (8th Cir.2005) (applying Minnesota law). Whether a product is defective is generally a question of fact; only where reasonable minds......
  • Kruszka v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., Civil No. 07–2793 (DWF/JJK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • 19 Mayo 2014
    ...harm if it happens, against the burden of the precaution which would be effective to avoid the harm.” Young v. Pollock Eng'g Grp., Inc., 428 F.3d 786, 788–89 (8th Cir.2005) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Plaintiffs assert that part of the failure of design is Defendant's failu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • Wadlington v. Werlich, Case No. 17-cv-449-SMY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. Southern District of Illinois
    • 7 Abril 2020
    ...court's error did not "seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings[.]" Wadlington, 428 F.3d at 786. Specifically, the court first concluded that "the evidence presented at trial overwhelmingly supported the district court's adoption of the pres......
  • In re Testosterone Replacement Therapy Prods. Liab. Litig. Coordinated Pretrial Proceedings, Case No. 14 C 1748
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • 30 Diciembre 2019
    ...design is not a required element of a design defect claim. See Kallio , 407 N.W.2d 92 at 96-97 & n.8 ; Young v. Pollock Eng'g Grp., Inc. , 428 F.3d 786, 789 (8th Cir. 2005) ; Kruszka , 19 F. Supp. 3d at 897. Minnesota courts, however, have stated that plaintiffs will rarely prevail without ......
  • Thompson v. Hirano Tecseed Co., Ltd., No. 05-2813.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 1 Agosto 2006
    ...precaution which would be effective to avoid the harm"), quoting Bilotta, 346 N.W.2d at 621. See also Young v. Pollock Eng'g Group, Inc., 428 F.3d 786, 788-89 (8th Cir.2005) (applying Minnesota law). Whether a product is defective is generally a question of fact; only where reasonable minds......
  • Kruszka v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., Civil No. 07–2793 (DWF/JJK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • 19 Mayo 2014
    ...harm if it happens, against the burden of the precaution which would be effective to avoid the harm.” Young v. Pollock Eng'g Grp., Inc., 428 F.3d 786, 788–89 (8th Cir.2005) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Plaintiffs assert that part of the failure of design is Defendant's failu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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