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01/27/87 Augustin Bautista, v. Llsteel Press Company

January 27, 1987





504 N.E.2d 772, 152 Ill. App. 3d 524, 105 Ill. Dec. 487 1987.IL.63

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Jerome T. Burke, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE BILANDIC delivered the opinion of the court. SCARIANO, P.J., and HARTMAN, J., concur.


Plaintiff, Augustin Bautista, filed a product liability action against defendant, Verson Allsteel Press Company. Plaintiff alleged the machine, manufactured by defendant, was unreasonably dangerous in its improper design, lack of safety devices, and inadequate warnings relative to hazards of operation. A jury verdict was entered in favor of defendant. After the denial of plaintiff's post-trial motions, this appeal was filed.

Plaintiff was injured on July 14, 1975, while operating a press brake machine manufactured by defendant. It was one of six machines sold to plaintiff's employer, G & G Metal Forming, in April of 1969. Plaintiff, speaking only Spanish and unable to read or write in Spanish or English, began working for G & G Metal 2 1/2 months before the accident.

The function of a press brake is to bend and shape metal. The press itself is approximately 48 inches wide and 6 feet high. During operation, the ram, the movable upper section of the press, descends upon the bed, or lower section of the press. Dies are attached to the ram and the bed. When the ram descends upon the bed, the dies press the metal into the desired shape.

The area between the ram die and bed die is referred to as the "point of operation." Without insertion of the dies, there is no point of operation. The ram and bed are 7 1/2 inches apart without a point of operation. The press can accommodate innumerable dies, the size and function of which may vary. Defendant sold this machine without dies and, therefore, without a point of operation. The variety of the dies, the size and shape of the parts made, and the variety of feeder systems all affect the selection of a suitable point-of-operation safety device.

The movable ram is controlled by a brake and clutch. The actual engaging mechanism, called a treadle, is manipulated by the operator's foot. The treadle is 7 to 8 inches off the floor. When the treadle is pressed, the clutch is engaged and the gearing mechanism causes the ram to come down with a 16-ton force. When the treadle is released, the clutch is disengaged and simultaneously, the braking mechanism is engaged. Releasing the treadle will stop the ram immediately at midcycle.

Due to the height of this machine, it was more comfortable for the operator to sit down while operating. The treadle, being 7 to 8 inches off the floor, required the operator to pick his foot up and down that height in order to engage and disengage the gearing mechanism for each operation. In addition, plaintiff's employer attached a table which extended across the front of the machine. This further restricted the area in which the operator could move his leg to operate the treadle. It was more comfortable for the operator to keep the treadle depressed, causing the ram to cycle continuously.

The machine included a warning plate in yellow letters against a black background which read, in part: "WORK SAFELY -- Keep hands out of closing dies. Heed verbal and written instructions. . . . See caution instructions in machine manual."

On the day of the accident, plaintiff was shown how to operate the machine. During the course of the day, plaintiff saw the metal become caught in the die many times. When this occurred, he would quickly reach in and remove the metal. However, plaintiff would keep the treadle depressed, which caused the ram to cycle continuously while he was removing the damaged metal. Plaintiff had been instructed to release the treadle after each bending operation. At approximately 2 p.m. that day, when plaintiff reached in to remove a piece of metal, the ram came down severing three fingers on his left hand.

During the course of the trial, plaintiff learned that a list was compiled in 1975 of the types of Verson machines on which injuries occurred, the nature of the injuries, and the cause of such injuries. In light of this, plaintiff represented to the court that defendant was not complying with discovery. Plaintiff requested an opportunity to depose defendant's president concerning these accidents and review all defendant's files involving claims of injury. Although both parties desired to allow the trial to continue its course, plaintiff requested that he have the right to reopen his case in the event that additional information is discovered regarding any prior accidents. The court granted these requests and plaintiff rested his case.

The deposition of defendant's president revealed he had thrown out two "Product Reliability" files. The president testified that the files contained unrelated information and made no mention of prior accidents or the 1975 list of injuries. One of the files was retrieved from the office waste basket. It was ...

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