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Gasdiel v. Federal Press Co.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ALLEN HARTMAN, Judge, presiding.


This is a personal injury action based on strict liability in tort against the manufacturer and distributor of a punch press and certain suppliers of component parts. Plaintiff, Diannia Gasdiel, injured her hand in the press when she slipped and accidentally activated a movable foot pedal that her employer had attached to the machine. The circuit court of Cook County granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, Federal Press Company (Federal) and Four States Machinery Company (Four States), the original manufacturer and distributor of the punch press.

On appeal, plaintiff contends that the record presents genuine issues of material fact for the jury, precluding an award of summary judgment in favor of Federal and Four States.

We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Plaintiff was employed part-time by Revcor, Inc., a manufacturing company. On January 9, 1973, she was assigned to operate a punch press which had been manufactured by defendant Federal and sold to Revcor by defendant Four States on October 31, 1967. Plaintiff had never before worked on the punch press and was instructed in its operation by a supervisor. The motor was turned on by pushing a button. Sheet metal would feed into the machine and stop at a certain point. The operator would then depress a movable foot pedal, attached to the press by flexible electrical cord, which caused a ram to descend and stamp out the product. The stamped piece would then automatically be pushed out of the left side of the die area where plaintiff would pick it up, inspect it and place it in a bin.

Plaintiff was instructed to wear pull away hand guards while operating the machine. The guards consisted of straps on each hand connected to a pole in such a manner that when the foot pedal was depressed the straps would automatically pull the operator's hands away from the machine.

Plaintiff began operating the machine but found that the metal product was of unacceptable quality. She then sought advice from the supervisor and foreman. Although she kept the hand guards attached while operating the machine, it was necessary to disconnect the guards so that she could leave the machine to seek assistance. Her foreman recommended various minor changes and told plaintiff to squirt the sheet metal with an oily substance contained in a squeeze bottle. This oily fluid spilled onto the floor along with the scrap metal.

When plaintiff continued to have difficulty with the finished pieces, she again unclipped the hand guards and walked over to discuss the problem with a woman who had been operating the machine earlier that evening. While walking back to her machine, plaintiff slipped on the oily substance and other debris. Her foot accidentally depressed the foot pedal which had somehow been moved to the right side of the machine from its normal position on the left side. The punch press was activated and, in attempting to catch her balance, plaintiff's right hand was caught in the die. Plaintiff suffered amputation of her fingers and limited mobility in her right arm.

In addition to Federal and Four States, plaintiff's fourth amended complaint joined Positive Safety Manufacturing Company, Square D Company and Clark Controller Company as defendants based on allegations that these companies designed, manufactured, sold, distributed and installed certain switches, buttons, motor starters and alleged safety devices for the punch press. The complaint alleged that the punch press and its components were unreasonably dangerous for the following reasons:

"(a) The activating mechanism with which the press had been originally equipped by defendant was in fact a foot pedal, mechanical in nature operated by foot pressure; therein providing no protection for the hands of the operator at the point of operation;

(b) That no supplemental guideline device of any nature or kind had been installed by the manufacturer at the point of operation to protect the hands of the operator;

(c) Said machine was assembled improperly in that the foot pedal which operated said machine was open and bare, without a cover thereon, and would easily be turned to an `on' position with the least movement on said machine;

(d) Said machine was assembled improperly in that the control mechanism of said machine could be moved from place to place without notice to persons using the machine and/or premises on which it was installed and they were not permanently attached to the flooring of the premises;

(e) Said machine and its component parts were assembled improperly in the buttons, levers and `on-off' switches were open and bare without any cover or other safety device located thereon so ...

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