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Anderson v. Hyster Co.

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 12, 1977.

VICTOR L. ANDERSON ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

HYSTER COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. PHILIP A. FLEISCHMAN, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE GOLDBERG DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied January 9, 1978.

On September 11, 1970, Victor Anderson and Steven Smith (plaintiffs) were injured at their place of employment by a forklift truck designed, manufactured and distributed by Hyster Company (defendant). Plaintiffs' second amended complaints, consolidated for trial, were based upon strict tort liability resulting from allegedly defective design of the truck. Upon jury verdicts, judgments were entered for plaintiff Smith for $150,000 and for plaintiff Anderson for $120,000. Defendant appeals.

Defendant contends that the design of the forklift truck was reasonably safe as a matter of law, the conduct of the driver of the truck was the sole proximate cause of plaintiffs' injuries and the court erred in admitting certain standards presented by the plaintiffs and in excluding standards and proof thereof offered by defendant.

The function and design of the defendant's Monotrol lift truck were explained by expert testimony and photographic and other exhibits. This lift truck was developed from 1954 to 1959 and marketed in 1959. As in other lift trucks, it has a perpendicular mast at its front, holding the two forklifts. Two levers on the right-hand side of the dashboard control the movement of these parts. One lever controls the tilt and upward and downward movements of the mast. The other lever allows the two units of the forklift to be shifted closer together. The dashboard also contains a key switch and a choke button to start the engine.

On the floor beneath the steering wheel are two pedals combining the transmission, speed and directional controls. The left pedal, an 8-inch black horizontally mounted control, functions as a combination brake and clutch. When this pedal is first depressed the clutch disengages the transmission so that the vehicle is in effect in neutral. Further depression activates the brake for stopping purposes. The machine also has a hand or parking brake. The remaining pedal is the so-called Monotrol. It is located directly to the right of the brake and to the right of the driver. It is approximately half as large as the brake pedal. It is red and also horizontally mounted, tilted slightly toward the driver. This pedal combines directional and speed controls. It has two sides or units. The side on the driver's left is slightly lower. When the left side of the pedal is depressed, the forward gear engages and the vehicle moves forward. When the right side of the pedal is depressed, the reverse gear is engaged for backward motion. In either case, speed increases with the pressure exerted by the operator's foot. Each side contains a slightly raised round disc with an arrow in the center indicating the direction of the resulting motion. There are no signals on the dashboard indicating which gear is engaged. As the driver shifts pressure from one side of the pedal to the other, a click indicates when the opposite gear has engaged. Because the forward and reverse gears are integrated in the Monotrol pedal, there is no stick shift lever for shifting gears.

The Monotrol system contains no neutral gear. The machine can only be in neutral to the extent that, when the combination brake and clutch pedal to the driver's left is initially depressed, the clutch disengages the transmission. Also, the Monotrol system is biased toward forward movement. Thus, when the engine is started the machine will be in forward gear and tend to "creep" forward automatically unless pressure is applied to the brake and clutch pedal. When the truck is in motion and the operator shifts gears, there is a brief time lag before the opposite gear engages. For example, if the truck is moving ahead and the driver shifts the weight of his foot from the left (forward) side of the Monotrol pedal to the right (reverse) side, the truck will continue its forward motion until the reverse gear actually engages and the vehicle begins traveling in reverse. Maximum speed in either direction is 14 m.p.h.

On the day of the accident, Russell Parkins, an occurrence witness for the plaintiffs, was operating the Monotrol truck within a lumber warehouse. He had worked there for three summers as a part-time college student and had driven several lift trucks there. However, he had only driven the Monotrol model two or three times a week for about a month. This type of truck had first been purchased by the employer that summer. Parkins testified that on this morning he had placed a wooden door approximately 36 inches wide on the truck's forklifts. He parked the truck about 6 feet in front of plaintiffs, who were standing near a lumber pile. He turned off the ignition, set the handbrake, dismounted, and joined plaintiffs in conversation.

When a fellow worker asked Parkins to move the truck, he returned to the driver's seat, started the engine and released the handbrake. He testified that he then stepped on the side of the Monotrol pedal needed to reverse the truck. He was uncertain which side this was. He thought the truck would "go backwards." He also anticipated that it would first creep forward. As it started to move forward, he "panicked." He heard the plaintiffs yelling. He thought that he was depressing the wrong side of the pedal and he quickly shifted his foot to the other side. The vehicle then picked up more forward speed and pushed plaintiffs into the lumber pile. The entire incident occurred within a few seconds. On cross-examination the witness testified that to stop an automobile he applies the brake and, if he had stepped on the truck's brake pedal, the vehicle would not have continued its forward motion. He did not attempt to sound a horn and did not know if there was one on the vehicle.

Three expert witnesses testified for each party. Plaintiffs called Marvin Salzenstein, a duly qualified consulting mechanical engineer. He had examined several dozen lift trucks in the past including the one here involved. In his opinion, the Monotrol on this vehicle was an unreasonably dangerous design. He stated that combining directional and speed controls in one device confuses operators who move from one type of lift truck to another. He criticized the Monotrol pedal's lack of a neutral gear, because when the operator removes his foot from the Monotrol pedal the transmission is still engaged and the machine tends to creep until brake pressure is applied. He criticized the lack of an indicator system. In his opinion, the operator does not know what direction the machine will move until he depresses the foot pedal and the motion of the vehicle begins. He pointed out that the directional arrows on the Monotrol pedal are in a darkened area beneath the steering wheel and are alternately covered by the operator's foot. He stated that directional controls should move forward to send a vehicle in a forward direction and backward to achieve backward movement, as there is no relationship between the motion of the Monotrol pedal and the movement of the lift truck.

In support of his opinion, the witness testified that he consulted a standard for industrial trucks promulgated by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He cited SAE J841c, an SAE Recommended Practice entitled "Operator Controls on Agricultural Equipment and Industrial Equipment" published in 1970, and SAE J841d, a revision published in 1971. The changes in the 1971 revision are not pertinent to this appeal. The standard was prepared by the Tractor Technical Committee of SAE. The witness testified that the standard is a recommended practice for uniform methods of constructing controls and he cited SAE J841d, par. 7.5, which provides:

"If a foot-actuated directional and variable speed control is provided, two pedals shall be used. Forward or downward motion on the outer pedal shall produce reverse motion and forward or downward motion on the inner pedal shall produce forward motion. * * * All directional and variable speed control pedals shall be clearly and permanently identified to indicate their function. A positive neutral position or control shall be provided."

On cross-examination the witness testified that the Monotrol lift truck has a neutral position when the clutch disengages the transmission. He stated that braking prevents the machine from creeping forward but pointed out that in lift trucks it is also possible to stop the truck by reversing, a practice known as "plugging." Although it is not unsound to combine direction and speed in the same pedal, he reiterated his opinion that controls should move in the direction in which the operator desires to move the vehicle.

Plaintiffs' second expert was Richard Pew, an experimental psychologist specializing in human factors engineering. He has degrees in electrical engineering and psychology and has taught both industrial engineering and psychology. He examined and drove a lift truck with Monotrol. In his opinion the Monotrol system is an unreasonably dangerous design. He stated that the natural relationship between pushing an item backward or forward to achieve desired movements in these directions is lacking when these specific movements are governed by a control unit with side-to-side motion. He stated that the dissimilarity between the Monotrol directional control and those of other lift trucks operated on the same jobsite invites confusion. In his opinion, an operator will revert to old driving habits in an emergency ...


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