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05/17/89 Robert W. Woods, v. Graham Engineering

May 17, 1989





539 N.E.2d 316, 183 Ill. App. 3d 337, 132 Ill. Dec. 6 1989.IL.748

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County; the Hon. Patrick J. Dixon, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE INGLIS delivered the opinion of the court. NASH and WOODWARD, JJ., concur.


This is a products liability action which arises out of an industrial accident wherein plaintiff, Robert W. Woods, had his hand injured in a plastic injection blow molding machine manufactured by defendant, Graham Engineering Corp. (Graham). The jury rendered a verdict for plaintiff upon which the trial court entered a judgment in the amount of $215,000. Graham appeals.

On appeal Graham contends (1) that it is not liable because an alteration made by plaintiff's employer, American Can Company, was the cause of the injury; (2) that American Can's removal of safety devices on the machine was unforeseeable as a matter of law; (3) that the trial court erred in its ruling relative to jury selection and conduct; (4) that the trial court erred with regard to certain rulings concerning jury instructions; and (5) that the trial court erred in striking defendant's third affirmative defense requesting a setoff. We reverse.

Plaintiff, Robert W. Woods, was injured while operating a machine system which made plastic bottles. Part of the system, known as a "Graham wheel," was manufactured by defendant Graham.

The Graham wheel contains 12 molds. Each mold has two halves. The molds revolve clockwise similar to a Ferris wheel. As the wheel rotates, the molds open and close. At the 9 o'clock position the mold is open. At that point, melted plastic, called parison, is injected into the mold through a machine known as an extruder. The mold then closes upon the parison, and the mold is entirely closed at the 12 o'clock position. The mold starts to open at the 5 o'clock position, and the molded product, a bottle, is ejected onto a conveyor at the 6 o'clock position. When the mold is fully open there is about 1 to 1 1/2 feet between the two halves.

According to plaintiff, just prior to his injury, he observed a bottle stuck in a mold. He watched for a period of time and then put his legs over the frame and sat on the frame. As the stuck bottle came around, plaintiff reached in and attempted to remove it at about the 6 o'clock position. Plaintiff tried yanking the bottle, but it would not come out. When the mold came around again, plaintiff again attempted to remove the bottle. On this occasion, the mold closed on plaintiff's hand and then opened back up.

Part of the wheel's design includes a cam with a large opening. There was testimony that if a product did not come out at the 6 o'clock position and more parison was injected into the mold, the mold would not completely close. However, even in this state there would be a time near the 5:30 o'clock position where the mold would close. This closure would occur due to the way a rod on the mold tracks the cam. There was also testimony that there was no such thing as a jam-free machine.

Ordinarily the Graham wheel is a component part of the Graham blow molding system, which consists of three major components: an extruder, which is the source of the plastic, the Graham wheel, and a conveyor belt to remove the product. As designed, an operator-access doorway to the wheel is provided at the front of the wheel between the extruder and the wheel. The doorway is electronically interlocked with limit switches such that if the doors to the access are opened or not in place, the limit switches shut off the wheel.

The rear of the wheel, where plaintiff accessed the mold, is guarded by perimeter steel mesh guards bolted to the frame. There is, however, an opening left at the side of the wheel to accommodate a conveyor. The guards on the wheel contain the following warning: "DO NOT OPERATE WITHOUT THE GUARDS IN PLACE." A manual provided with the machine contains the following warning:

" This machine, designed to rotate in order to perform its task, is potentially dangerous, and can cause injury, if the operator becomes negligent or is not properly trained. It must be stressed that every precaution must be taken when making adjustments to the machine while running. Warning signs are affixed to the machine at various ...

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