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Rivera v. Rockford Mach. & Tool Co.

SEPTEMBER 27, 1971.

CANDIDO RIVERA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

ROCKFORD MACHINE & TOOL COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ROBERT E. McAULIFFE, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE LYONS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an action for damages for personal injuries brought against the manufacturer of a plastic injection molding machine, known as the Rockford Hijector, by a machine operator who suffered the loss of his right hand. The cause was submitted to a jury under the theory of strict liability and resulted in a verdict for plaintiff in the amount of $155,000 upon which judgment was entered.

On appeal the defendant contends:

1) That the verdict on the issue of liability is erroneous as a matter of law;

2) That the trial court erred in admitting plaintiff's evidence that certain safety devices were available at the time the machine involved was manufactured and sold which would have prevented the occurrence;

3) That the court erred in allowing plaintiff's counsel to use certain published material in cross-examining a defense witness;

4) That the court erred in denying defendant's motion to strike the testimony of one of plaintiff's expert witnesses;

5) That the jury was not properly instructed; and

6) That the verdict is excessive and therefore any affirmance must be conditioned upon a remittitur.

The statement of facts will be restricted to only that which we deem necessary for purposes of the appeal. The machine on which plaintiff was injured, a Rockford Hijector, is a plastic injection molding machine manufactured and sold by the defendant. In function it is essentially a horizontally operating hydraulic press, the right side of which is stationary. One half of a die or mold is secured to each side of the press and heated to approximately three hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

As the machine was used on the date of plaintiff's injury, plastic material, which had been heated until a desired degree of softness had been achieved, was manually placed in the cavities of the right side of the mold by the machine operator. The machine cycle is then begun by the closing of a safety gate which is mounted on rollers and which, when in a closed position, physically bars the operator from the mold area. When the gate is placed in the closed position certain electronic limit switches are activated and the machine's cycle is begun. Until these switches have been activated by the gate, the machine is said to be electrically "dead."

The cycle of the machine consists of the movement by hydraulic means of the left half of the die to meet the right half. The two halves of the die are then pressed together under a force of several tons, thus forcing the plastic material to assume the contours of the mold. The machine remains in this position for a short period, allowing the newly formed product to become heat cured. Thereafter, the left or movable half of the die is automatically retracted and knock out pins in the mold loosen the product in order to facilitate its manual removal by the machine operator, after the safety gate has been opened.

The machine is so designed that the safety gate cannot be opened once the machine's cycle has begun. Once closed, the gate can be returned to the open position, allowing access to the mold area, only after the cycle has been completed and the press returned to the open position.

The hydraulic system which provides the force for movement of the left half of the die and molding pressure consists of a single cylinder and piston. At the end of the piston rod opposite the piston is a platen to which is secured the left half of the mold. The piston, and thus the left half of the mold by reason of its connection thereto through the platen and piston rod, is moved by the transfer of hydraulic fluid under pressure from one side to the other of the ...


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