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Harris v. Solna Corp.

FEBRUARY 14, 1974.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Livingston County; the Hon. STEPHEN ADSIT, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff appeals from an order granting summary judgment for defendant, American Drug Industries, Inc.

While cleaning an offset press for his employer, plaintiff suffered injury by inhaling vapor from carbon tetrachloride. He brought suit against the manufacturer and distributor of the offset press and against American Drug as the supplier of carbon tetrachloride. Neither the manufacturer nor the distributor are concerned in this appeal.

The complaint alleged counts in products liability and negligence respectively. Each contains substantially the same allegations that there were no adequate warnings of the toxic or dangerous quality of the product, no warnings concerning the proper use of such and no adequate warning or instruction "as to the amount of ventilation required in the safe use of carbon tetrachloride".

In ruling upon the motion for summary judgment, the trial court considered the label which plaintiff asserted was upon the one-gallon jug of carbon tetrachloride, together with facts from the discovery deposition of plaintiff. The label was three inches by four inches and in addition to a trade name and defendant's business label contained the following "CARBON TETRACHLORIDE" (in letters not less than one-fourth inch high); beneath was the word "TECHNICAL" followed by "NOT FOR PHARMACEUTICAL USE". In the center of the label was the word "POISON" in letters not less than one-fourth inch tall with a skull and crossbones on either side of that word. The specific language beneath the word "POISON" was:


Use With Adequate Ventalation [sic], Avoid Contact with Flame or Hot Surface.


May Be Fatal if Inhaled or Swallowed KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN"

The complaint alleged that the injuries were incurred on July 24, 1969. Plaintiff's deposition discloses the following: In the course of plaintiff's employment, he was required to clean the carbon vanes of printing machines owned by his employer. Plaintiff had been using carbon tetrachloride to clean vanes of printing machines for Johnson Press, Inc., since 1964. He had read the label on the containers of carbon tetrachloride, although he did not read the label every time he used it. Defendant's deposition indicated that he was aware that the fumes of carbon tetrachloride were toxic and he would say that they were poisonous. In addition to the label, he had read the instruction book for the presses which advised that the fumes were toxic and that adequate ventilation was required.

On July 24, 1969, his employer owned two of these machines, which plaintiff cleaned at least once each month. In this process, he would take a one-gallon container of carbon tetrachloride from the storeroom, carry it into the room where the presses were, and pour it there. He would then take the container back to the storeroom. He would pour one-fourth to one-third of a coffee cup of carbon tetrachloride into a hole in the pumps of a machine. This would require him to kneel on the floor. While he was still pouring the liquid, the carbon tetrachloride would come out of another hole, three inches away from the first, in the form of fumes and a very small amount of liquid. He would then run the pumps on the press. Plaintiff would be an arm's length away from the second hole, and would turn his head to avoid inhaling the fumes. The actual application of the carbon tetrachloride lasted only a minute or two; however, in the cleaning of the presses by wiping with kerosene plaintiff would stay near the machines and the fumes for about a half hour.

From 1964 until 1966, plaintiff was responsible for cleaning one offset machine in a non air-conditioned room. After about 1966, he cleaned two offset presses in an air-conditioned room, and for part of the time, a press in another room.

The rooms where the offset machines are currently located measure about 30 to 40 feet by 50 to 60 feet. The plaintiff stated that while he used the carbon tetrachloride, the doors would be open and the air-conditioner would be running.

The trial court prepared a memorandum which noted the number and style of the admonitions directing caution by the user, that is, the use of the word "POISON" with a picture of a skull and crossbones; the words "Danger — Volatile Solvent"; the words "Warning — Harmful Vapor"; the words ...

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