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Reid v. Employers Mutual Liability Ins. Co.

AUGUST 3, 1973.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOSEPH M. WOSIK, Judge, presiding.


In this action plaintiff sought to recover damages for injury sustained by him in the operation of a printing press, which injury was alleged to have occurred because of defendant's negligent safety inspections of the press which was owned and operated by its assured. Plaintiff's injury occurred when his hand was caught between two brass rollers of a printing press he was cleaning. The jury rendered a verdict for plaintiff in the amount of $100,000 and defendant filed a post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or, in the alternative, for a new trial. The motion was denied and from that denial defendant appeals. *fn1

Defendant presents five points on this appeal:

1. At the time of the occurrence, plaintiff was not in the exercise of due care for his own safety as a matter of law;

2. Defendant neither did anything nor failed to do anything that was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injury;

3. The Illinois Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1963, ch. 48, par. 138.5(a)) precludes a further common law recovery from defendant;

4. Defendant is entitled to a judgment notwithstanding the verdict; or

5. Defendant is entitled to a new trial because the verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence.

On January 7, 1964, plaintiff, 35 years old, was an employee of the Casper Tin Plate Company of Chicago. For 18 years he had been a press and wash up man for the company, and on the day of the accident had been given instructions by the press foreman to clean a 25 by 15 foot press which had cylindrical brass rollers five feet long and four and one-half inches in diameter in the front of the machine. He testified that the only way he could clean the press in the manner described by the foreman was while it was running. After he had cleaned the front part of the press, he poured a solution over the rollers to cut the ink, took a piece of steel wool in his right hand, and, while leaning the full length of his body to reach the rollers with his hand, he was going lightly over the rollers when his shirt sleeve caught and pulled his hand between the rollers.

The press is 25 feet by 15 feet. There was a run button in the back of the press which he had pushed to start the press for cleaning. There were no safety guards on the front of the machine where plaintiff worked. After his hand was caught between the rollers, he tried to reach for the safety buttons but they were out of reach, about 10 feet away. He was in terrific pain and cried out for help, but no one was within hearing distance of him. Ten to 15 minutes later, someone heard him, ran to his aid, and turned off the press. The rollers were taken off the press, freeing his hand, and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Prior to the accident, someone from defendant company inspected the plant and presses, telling plaintiff he was going to make the machines safe. The man returned about a month later, and when asked if the machines were now safe, the man replied, "Don't worry about it. You just be careful." His hand was operated on eight times and is permanently crippled. Since the accident, "safety buttons" have been placed on the press close to the rollers. Had they been installed at the time of the occurrence, they would not have prevented the catching of plaintiff's hand in the rollers, but the press could probably have been stopped sooner than it was. Thus, the presence or absence of nearby stop buttons relates only to the issue of damages and not to the issues of negligence or contributory negligence.

Plaintiff testified that when he cleaned the larger rollers at the rear of the machine, he would stop the press, clean a portion of the roller, then press a jogging button which would turn the roller a fraction of a turn, then clean another section. Repeating the procedure four times would be sufficient to clean the entire roller. The front rollers which were involved in the accident could have been stopped and started with the same button. When asked why he didn't stop the press and use the jogging button to clean the front rollers, he said there was no particular reason. He also said he could have removed the rollers for cleaning. While he was trained in his job by the former jobholder, he controlled the entire cleaning process himself. On the day of the injury, he was told by the foreman to use steel wool on the rollers. He was wearing a long sleeve shirt buttoned at the wrist.

Plaintiff's expert witness, a safety engineer, testified, on cross-examination, that he did not believe cleaning the rollers with steel wool while the machine was in operation was the accepted way of cleaning, according to proper safety standards. Also, in his opinion, the machine should have had a pressure limiting device which would automatically shut off the press when anything oversized was pulled into the equipment. The press could have been shut down, the rollers removed by two men, and then cleaned and replaced. That would have been a safe way to clean the machine but would have taken more time. He had never seen this particular machine but was familiar with the type.

A superintendent at Casper Tin plate Company testified that steel wool was not necessarily used to clean the rollers but is used in another part of the cleaning process. The rollers could be cleaned with the machine stopped. He could not say for sure whether the stop buttons ...

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