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Black v. Henry Pratt Co.

December 11, 1985

SHIRLEY BLACK, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
HENRY PRATT COMPANY AND AMSTED INDUSTRIES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. Nos. 81 C 669, 81 C 672, 81 C 689 & 81 C 684--Michael S. Kanne, Judge.

Author: Coffey

Before WOOD, COFFEY and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Henry Pratt Company and Amsted Industries on the grounds that the plaintiffs' products liability actions are barred pursuant to Section 5 of the Indiana Product Liability Act, Indiana Code § 33-1-1.5-5. We affirm.

I

Jones & Laughlin Steel Company (" & L") operates a steel mill in East Chicago, Indiana. In 1967, defendant Henry Pratt Company ("Pratt") (now a division of Amsted Industries) received a purchase order from Chicago Tube and Iron Co. for three 48" R1 rubber seated butterfly gas shut off valves to be delivered to the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. ("Youngstown") (predecessor of J & L) East Chicago mill. The R1 valve was a standard item in the Pratt catalog, designed and assembled by Pratt, comprised of a 48" diameter steel cylinder with a flat metal disk, or butterfly, that fits inside the steel cylinder. During the operational cycle of the valve, when the disk is perpendicular to the length of the cylinder and is resting against the cylinder walls, the valve is fully closed. When the disk is parallel to the length of the cylinder, the valve is fully open. The valve disk is attached to a valve shaft spanning the diameter of the cylinder and seated in bearings in the cylinder wall. The valve is opened and closed by rotating the valve shaft by means of a manual chainwheel operator, consisting of a twenty foot loop of chain suspended from a chainwheel (sprocket) mounted perpendicular to the valve shaft. When the chain is activated, the chainwheel rotates, supplying force to the gears in the operator (the mechanism in the valve assembly that transfers force from the chainwheel to the valve shaft), which in turn rotates the valve shaft.

In October 1967 Pratt delivered the three R1 valves to Youngstown during the fourth reline (overhaul) of the No. 3 blast furnace. Youngstown installed one of the valves in the gas downleg (a pipeline feeding washed blast furnace gas to the stove) to the No. 32 stove of the No. 3 blast furnace. In normal operation of the furnace, the R1 valve was opened and closed on the average of eight times in a twenty-four hour period, and fresh air for combustion in the stove was provided by an electric motor driven fan manufactured by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. In the event of a failure in the electric fan, the design of the stove was such that the R1 valve in the gas downleg would provide the only means of shut-off of the flow of washed blast furnace gas and prevent the escape of the deadly gas containing 27.5% carbon monoxide into the area surrounding the furnace.

According to the record, the Henry Pratt Co. was neither involved in the installation of the valves, much less did it ever perform any repair work, modification, or replacement work on any of the three R1 valves delivered to Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company in 1967. The only contact between Pratt and Youngstown or Jones & Laughlin Steel after the delivery of the valves in 1967 involved the purchase and sale of replacement parts for the valve bodies in 1972, 1973, and 1978. Before purchasing the replacement parts, J & L employee consulted with a Pratt engineer regarding the appropriate seat material for the Pratt valves (the seat material provides a seal between the valve butterfly and valve walls). In 1972, J & L purchased three valve seats and cement, six bearings, and three sets of packing; in 1973, three valve seats; and in 1978 one seat retaining segment and seat retaining segment screws. The replacement parts purchased in 1972 and 1973 were installed by a contractor, John Mohr & Sons, during the fifth reline in 1973. The record fails to reflect whether the replacement parts purchased in 1978 were in fact ever installed, or if they were in fact installed, who installed them.

On December 28, 1979, the combustion fan motor on the No. 32 stove of the No. 3 blast furnace failed, and washed blast furnace gas containing carbon monoxide began escaping from the stove into the immediate surrounding area at a rate of 30,000 cubic feet per minute. The "stove man," Al Lovincy, summoned the general foreman, Allen Black, and the two succeeded in partially closing the R1 shut off valve in the gas downleg by pulling on the chain attached to the operator. When Gary Hoffman, the blower foreman, arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, he tried to complete closing the valve by pulling on the chain. Instead of closing the valve, Hoffman pulled the chain off the chainwheel. While attempting to close the valve, Hoffman was overcome by carbon monoxide. Black attempted to rescue Hoffman, but was also overcome. Donald Fields, Ezell Goins, Ben Harris, and Frederick DeHoyos all joined together to assist in the rescue of their fellow workers Hoffman and Black, and were also overcome by carbon monoxide. All six died of asphyxiation as a result of the high level of carbon monoxide released from the No. 3 blast furnace.

Shortly thereafter, in an attempt to halt the flow of carbon monoxide, Joseph Hudnall isolated the No. 32 stove and cleared the carbon monoxide from the system and the area immediately surrounding the unit. Once the area was safe, Hudnall inspected the R1 gas shut off valve, and after replacing the chain back on the chainwheel and turning the chainwheel so the valve was in the close position, he noted that the valve was in fact closed and properly seated. J & L continued to use the same Pratt valve in the gas downleg to the No. 32 stove following the accident without incident until the blast furnace was redesigned and rebuilt in 1981.

The plaintiffs, the administratrixes of the six J & L employees killed in the December 1979 mishap, filed four separate diversity actions in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. Each complaint named as defendants John Mohr & Sons, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Henry Pratt Co., Amstead Industries, American Chain Co., Inc., and ACCO Industries. (American Chain Co., Inc. and ACCO Industries allegedly designed and manufactured the chain and sprocket incorporated in the chainwheel operator of the Pratt R1 valve.) The plaintiffs' claims were based in negligence, strict liability in tort, breach of express and implied warranty, and willful and wanton conduct. The district court consolidated the four cases for purposes of discovery and pretrial motions. Defendants Pratt, Amsted, American Chain Co., ACCO Industries, and Westinghouse Electric Corp. filed motions for summary judgment in each case on the grounds that the plaintiffs' actions were barred by the 10-year statute of limitations set forth in Section 5 of the Indiana Product Liability Act, Indiana Code § 33-1-1.5-5. The district court granted the motions for summary judgment, noting that Westinghouse delivered the fan motor to J & L in 1963, and the valve, including the chain and chainwheel assembly, was delivered to J & L in 1967, while the accident occurred in December 1979. The district court specifically noted that the accident was caused by the chain coming off the chainwheel or other problems involving the chain mechanism itself, and that the replacement parts--bearings, seats, packing and glue--furnished in 1972, 1973, and 1978 had no bearing whatsoever on the accident. Since the plaintiffs' actions were not filed until 1981, more than ten years after delivery of the allegedly defective valves, including the chain and chain mechanism, the district court concluded that the Indiana statute of limitations barred the plaintiffs' recovery. The district court also determined that despite the fact that the actions continued against John Mohr & Sons, there existed no just reason for delaying the entry of final judgments in favor of the other defendants. The court thus directed that a final judgment of dismissal be entered with respect to each of the defendants with the exception of John Mohr & Sons pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b). The plaintiffs appeal the entry of summary judgment in favor of defendants Pratt and Amsted.

II

The appellants contend that the district court erred in granting summary judgment because there exists a genuine issue of material fact: "[whether] the supplying of parts essential for the operation of [the R1] valve without warning of the dangers posed by that valve's use render those parts dangerous." According to the appellants, "The particular application of the seats and bearings in the valve that killed the men was foreseeable. PRATT could foresee that these seats and bearings would make an otherwise inoperable 48 inch butterfly valve work." The appellants further argue:

"In supplying the essential replacement parts for the valve in 1972 and 1973, PRATT failed to warn J & L, Mohr or anybody of the foreseeable dangers of making that valve work. The supplying of essential parts without warning rendered those particular seats and bearings dangerous and defective. When PRATT made its deliveries in 1972 and 1973 it did not warn anybody of the need to have clear directions on the chain for closing the valve, did not warn of the need for a more visible indicator of the valve position, did not warn of the need for a chain guide or tension device to keep the chain on the sprocket wheel and did not warn of the ...


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