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09/30/87 Olga Medina, v. Air-Mite Devices

September 30, 1987





515 N.E.2d 770, 161 Ill. App. 3d 502, 113 Ill. Dec. 785

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Odas Nicholson, Judge, presiding. 1987.IL.1470


JUSTICE JOHNSON delivered the opinion of the court. LINN and JIGANTI, JJ., concur.


Plaintiff, Olga Medina, brought an action in strict product liability to recover damages for personal injuries she suffered while operating an air press manufactured by defendant, Air-Mite Devices, Inc. Relying on the fact that the air press, as manufactured, is a multi-functional machine on which plaintiff's employer, Fox Valley Manufacturing Co. (hereinafter Fox Valley), made substantial alterations and additions, defendant filed a third-party complaint against Fox Valley seeking indemnity. The circuit court of Cook County entered summary judgment for defendant. Plaintiff appeals, contending that there were genuine issues of material fact to be resolved by a jury as to (1) whether Fox Valley's additions to the basic machine were material alterations sufficient to relieve defendant of liability; (2) whether the machine was unreasonably dangerous by reason of defendant's failure to provide a safety device to prevent the operator's hand from entering the die area; and (3) whether the machine's defective design or Fox Valley's alterations were the proximate cause of her injury.

We reverse and remand.

The machine involved is a "DAP 12-Model Stroke Punch Press," an industrial machine used for shaping metal by means of a ram which descends into a die with sufficient force to stamp out raw metal into a desired shape. It is manufactured by defendant and was sold to plaintiff's employer, Fox Valley. As manufactured, the press is a multifunctional machine consisting of an air cylinder mounted to a post which is attached to a base by a mounting bracket. The air press does not contain any points of operation, guards, or anti-tie-down devices. The purchaser adapts the press to its particular functions.

The undisputed evidence indicated that Fox Valley added a crimping or dimple die to the ram, a channel-like die set to the base, a foot pedal, and a metal rod attachment to the column of the machine itself. It was also established that Fox Valley generally adds a steel mesh guard which encloses the operating portion of the air press and provides a small opening which allows the unfinished metal to be fed into the press. The air press, as both manufactured and used, performs a single basic function: an air-powered, downward application of force.

Around 1978, plaintiff was first employed as an assembler at Fox Valley. After leaving Fox Valley for employment at another factory, she returned to work there on April 1, 1981, and was again assigned to the assembly department. Shortly after her return, she was orally instructed on the operation of the press by a co-worker. On April 6, 1981, plaintiff sustained a compound fracture of the left little finger when she placed her hand near the ram of the operating air press while attempting to dislodge working material. The evidence is controverted, however, as to whether the steel mesh guard safety device was in fact installed on the particular machine on which plaintiff was injured.

Plaintiff filed suit in strict product liability seeking damages for personal injury and alleging that defendant manufactured, sold, and otherwise placed into commerce a certain air press which was unreasonably dangerous and defective when it left defendant's possession. Subsequently, defendant filed a third-party complaint against plaintiff's employer alleging that Fox Valley's negligent acts and/or omissions were the direct and proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. Thereafter, defendant moved for summary judgment arguing that the mesh guarding provided by Fox Valley remedied any defective condition which might have existed at the time the press left its control, and that Fox Valley's undisputed alterations to the press were material and relieved it of liability as a matter of law. In opposition, plaintiff presented the deposition of her expert engineer, Donald Esposito, in which he claimed to have found six separate design and/or manufacturing defects, and the accident reports written by her supervisor, Karen Pierce, and the personnel manager of Fox Valley which reported that the accident was caused by the lack of guarding on the machine. However, Karen Pierce and another employee of Fox Valley, Franz Fisher, testified in deposition to the existence of some point of operation guarding on the press at the time of the occurrence, but they claimed the guarding was inadequate. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant, ruling that (1) Fox Valley had substantially altered the machine, thereby relieving defendant of liability; and (2) plaintiff had presented insufficient evidence to establish that the machine was in an unreasonably dangerous condition at the time it left defendant's control. Plaintiff brings this appeal.

Recovery from a manufacturer under the theory of strict product liability in tort requires the plaintiff to prove that (1) his injuries resulted from a condition of the product, (2) the condition was an unreasonably dangerous one, and (3) the condition existed at the time the product left the manufacturer's control. (Rios v. Niagara Machine & Tool Works (1974), 59 Ill. 2d 79, 83, 319 N.E.2d 232, 234; Gasdiel v. Federal Press Co. (1979), 78 Ill. App. 3d 222, 226, 396 N.E.2d 1241, 1244.) The Second Restatement of Torts (Restatement (Second) of Torts sec. 402A (1965)), which was adopted by our supreme court in Suvada v. White Motor Co. (1965), 32 Ill. 2d 612, 210 N.E.2d 182, capsulizes these elements and emphasizes the causal connection required for recovery. It premises recovery on the supposition that the injury was caused by the unreasonably dangerous condition of the product. Furthermore, it limits the imposition of strict liability to where the defective product reached the user or consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it was sold. (Restatement (Second) of Torts sec. 402A(b) (1965).) Thus, summary judgment in a strict product liability action is appropriate only where no genuine issue of material fact exists as to any of the above issues.

Plaintiff's basic contention is that there was sufficient evidence presented in opposition to the motion for summary judgment to make the issue of defendant's liability a jury question. Defendant counters by arguing that summary judgment was proper because plaintiff failed to, and indeed could not as a matter of law, establish any of the three elements necessary for her prima facie case and ...

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