An engineering expert witness advises on a case involving a food company worker who suffered severe hand damage from a wrapping machine. Plaintiff worked at a food packaging plant. She speaks little English and reads none. On the day of her injury, she was working in an area that she was unfamiliar with, operating a machine that wrapped crackers. The wrapping machine became jammed, as it often did, and plaintiff, following what she had seen coworkers do, stuck her hand into the machine to clear the jam. The knife that slices the wrapper cut her hand, and it took nearly 10 minutes to free her.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What was the cause of the accident?
- 2. Was the machine defective or unreasonably unsafe?
Expert Witness Response
It is my opinion within a reasonable degree of engineering certainty that the subject wrapping machine was designed and manufactured in accordance with prudent engineering and safety principles in effect in 1961, was reasonably fit for its intended use, and posed no unreasonable hazard or risk to operating personnel while exercising ordinary care or utilizing accepted safety practices. In particular, fixed guarding on the machine was suitable for its intended use, and was in compliance with industry practice at the time of its original manufacture.
There was no regulatory requirement — OSHA did not exist —, nor was it within the standard practice in industry in 1961, to provide interlocked guards where fixed guards were suitable and practical. The accident and injury were not caused by any lack of warnings or instructional labels on the subject machine. It was not the custom and practice in industry in 1961 to provide warnings and instructions on machinery designed to be used by sophisticated users and trained operators in a commercial work place. Further, it was not the custom and practice in 1961 to provide such warnings in a multi-lingual format.
The injury was caused by the significant and substantial modification of the operational and safety features of the subject wrapping machine, by the user of the machine and/or aftermarket modifiers employed by the user company, and by the failure of the user to properly maintain the subject machine. Such modifications and lack of proper maintenance caused the machine to malfunction and frequently ‘jam.’ requiring operators to perform functions which would not have been necessary if the machine had been properly maintained.
Further, the accident and injury was caused by the failure of her employer to provide her with training in the proper operation of the subject machine and adequate supervision to ensure that safe practices were being followed.
The expert is a licensed professional engineer with 26 years of industrial design experience and 13 years of experience performing forensic engineering.