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Curry v. Louis Allis Co.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR A. SULLIVAN, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied October 29, 1981.

This suit is a products liability action brought for injuries suffered when a motor, having been improperly installed, fell off a drop hammer. The suit was brought against the manufacturer, Louis Allis Company, Incorporated (Allis), the seller, Central Motor & Repair Company (Central), and the assembler of the total machine, Chambersburg Engineering Company, Incorporated (Ceco). The trial court concluded Allis and Central were not liable for the injuries and granted their motion for summary judgment.

We affirm.

Allis is the manufacturer of electric motors. Prior to 1965, it manufactured electric motors designed for use on board drop hammers. In 1964, it withdrew from that market and since then has manufactured only general purpose drive motors. The motor involved in the present case was a general purpose drive motor manufactured according to standard, industry-wide specifications established by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. It was advertised for use in foundries and related industries and was commonly used in hundreds of varied applications such as pumps, machine tools, compressors and refrigeration units. The motor's cast iron housing was forged according to specifications which call for a tensile strength of 30,000 pounds per square inch (psi).

Central is engaged in the business of rebuilding and repairing electric motors. Incidental thereto, it placed orders for new electric motors for its customers from various motor manufacturers including Allis. It was not an authorized Allis distributor, nor did it regularly sell or distribute Allis products directly. It did sell the motor involved in this case to plaintiff's employer on or about July 31, 1974.

The plaintiff, Curry, was an employee of Cornell Forge Company. Cornell is engaged in the forging business. At the time of the accident it had on its premises numerous hammers in addition to the drop hammer involved in this occurrence. It maintained an inventory of spare hammer parts, motors and mounting assemblies and purchased standard drive motors from other manufacturers besides Allis. It had experienced motor feet fractures with these motors as well. Cornell performed its own repairs on the hammers, including the installation of replacement drive motors as needed. In addition, it shipped motors to independent contractors which welded motor casing fractures. It never notified Allis or sought its advice if motor frames fractured.

The 2,000 pound board drop hammer involved in the accident was designed, manufactured and sold by Ceco. Its principal components included the hardware for the hammer itself, a drive motor and a shock mounting system by which the drive motor is mounted on top of the hammer. This shock mounting system was developed by Ceco after Allis discontinued manufacture of the specialized motors so that the hammer could be powered by general purpose drive motors.

In 1966 Cornell purchased from Allis and had sent to Ceco a motor for inspection and testing with the 2,000 pound drop hammer. After testing, Ceco approved the use of the motor on the drop hammer conditioned on Cornell's use of the Ceco-designed shock mounting system. It also required use of its double element coupling. Ceco provided Cornell with detailed instructions and drawings as to the proper method of mounting and coupling the motor to the hammer. However, while several Cornell personnel, including the purchasing agent and plant manager, had these instructions and drawings, they had not been given to anyone in the maintenance department.

On September 5, 1974, the motor then in use was observed to be shaking. The hammer was shut down and the night shift maintenance crew was instructed to install the new Allis motor. Floyd Bradshaw was the lead man on this crew. Not only did he not have any instructions or drawings, but he was not able to find the required shock mounting assembly and double element coupling although in fact Cornell did have some units in stock.

When Bradshaw could not locate a complete shock mounting assembly in the Cornell toolroom, he used the worn parts from the previous assembly, which included only two of the necessary four mushroom-head bolts and only six of the necessary eight neoprene cups. To replace the two missing mushroom-head bolts Bradshaw used two improper, standard hex-head bolts which had a smaller and differently shaped head and a wider threaded shaft than the mushroom bolts included in the Ceco shock mount assembly kit. Although each bolt required two rubber cups for correct installation and proper shock isolation, Bradshaw used only one rubber cup with each hex-head bolt.

Because the standard hex-head bolts were too large to fit through the premachined holes in the feet of the Allis motor, Bradshaw drilled and enlarged the motor mounting holes to accommodate the improper hex-head bolts. He then "snugly" tightened the two hex-head bolts and two partially worn rubber cups without the use of the proper castellated nuts which permit the insertion of a cotter pin to secure the mount. The instructions regarding the motor shock mount stated that the mushroom bolts should be finger tight, then tightened only an additional half turn in order to allow the motor the benefit of the float generated by the shock assembly, thus protecting the motor from the extreme vibrations generated in the Ceco hammer. Because he had not found the series shock mount assembly with the packing instructions, Bradshaw was unaware of the proper assembly procedures, and when he "snugly" tightened the mushroom bolts, he destroyed the "float" effect of the shock mounting system. About six hours after the hammer was put back into service, the motor fell severely injuring plaintiff. An inspection report by Ceco revealed that:

"(d) At approximately 5:30 a.m. — after approximately six hours service — the front two mounts failed by the hex-head bolts pulling through the Body, 285. Apparently, at this point both of the front motor feet broke off. This caused an unstable condition and the rear two motor feet broke causing the motor to tear loose from the coupling and fall upon the Trim Press operator.

(e) Customer has put aside the damaged motor, the four feet, and the motor mounts involved. I inspected the feet and all failures were clean indicating a sudden fracture. The Bodies, 285, of the mounts were deformed at the bore where the hex head pulled through. The ...

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