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05/18/89 Savage Manufacturing and v. Paul Doser

May 18, 1989





540 N.E.2d 402, 184 Ill. App. 3d 405, 132 Ill. Dec. 662 1989.IL.756

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Charles A. Durham, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court. JOHNSON, J., concurs. PRESIDING JUSTICE JIGANTI, Dissenting.


Defendant Savage Manufacturing and Sales, Inc. (Savage), appeals from a judgment entered upon a jury verdict that found Savage strictly liable in tort for injuries to plaintiff Paul Doser (Doser) proximately caused by Savage's failure to provide safety guards or adequate warnings on a hydraulic machine press. Doser's left-hand finger was amputated by the press while Doser was aiding a fellow Chrysler employee assigned to operate the press. Savage also appeals from trial court orders that severed Savage's third-party contribution claim against Doser's employer, Chrysler Motors Corporation (Chrysler), and thereafter dismissed the third-party claim because of a settlement reached between Doser and Chrysler.

We reverse.

Evidence at trial established the following facts surrounding Doser's injury and Chrysler's purchase of the hydraulic press. Doser was injured on August 8, 1979, when the ram of a hydraulic press was activated and amputated a finger on his left hand. No mechanical failure or malfunction of the press caused or precipitated the injury. At the time of the accident, Doser was an employee at Chrysler's Belvidere automobile plant. Doser was experienced at operating the press which caused the injury. He admitted at trial that he knew the press was to be operated by only one person at a time.

On the date of the injury, Doser had completed his assigned tasks at his hydraulic press and volunteered to assist a fellow employee, Willie Wilcox (Wilcox), in using Wilcox' machine to press bushings onto the "knuckle" of automobile steering systems, which was normally a front-feed operation. To help Wilcox in performing this work, Doser side fed certain parts into the press. Wilcox then front fed other parts into the press and, using both hands, pressed two palm buttons located on the front of the machine. Once Wilcox activated the machine by simultaneously pressing both buttons, the ram of the press descended upon the parts and forced them together into place. Doser's left-hand finger was severed when Wilcox prematurely activated the dual palm buttons, causing the ram to descend on Doser's hand.

Chrysler purchased the press from Savage in 1973 following Chrysler's provision of specifications to and receipt of quotations from a manufacturing machine broker. Chrysler indicated to Savage that the press was to be manufactured without a "point of operation," i.e., without dies or other toolings. The press purchased by Chrysler complied with the requirement that it have no point of operation, and Chrysler installed dies on the press when received from Savage. The press was designed, manufactured and sold with the following safety features: dual palm buttons, which required that both hands of the operator be used simultaneously to activate the machine; an anti-tie-down feature, which prevented one of the palm buttons from being tied down into a permanently activated position; guards around the palm buttons, extending the same distance from the machine as the buttons, which prevented activation of the palm buttons by accidental contact; and an anti-repeat feature, which prevented the press from automatically repeating the downward stroke of the ram. The press also carried a warning on the front which stated, "Never place your hands in the die area." A manual which was sent to Chrysler with the press included safety instructions that warned against operation of the press by two persons at the same time.

Doser's expert witness testified that, in his opinion, the Savage press Chrysler purchased was dedicated to a single use and was therefore unifunctional. The expert further testified that in his opinion the press was unreasonably dangerous because it was not equipped with safety guards around the point of operation of the machine. The expert explained that safety guards could have been either fixed barrier guards, interlocking barrier guards, adjustable barrier guards, or presence-sensing devices such as light curtains, radio frequencies, or infrared light curtains. Doser's expert also stated that the press should have clearly and specifically carried a warning against two-persons operation of the press.

The expert witness who testified on behalf of Chrysler disagreed with Doser's expert on each of these points. Savage's expert testified that in his opinion the hydraulic press was a multifunctional machine; because its use was multifunctional, it was his opinion that Savage could not have reasonably equipped the press with safety guards around the machine rams when the press was manufactured and sold to Chrysler. Savage's expert also gave his opinion that the warnings were adequate.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Doser and against Savage, and awarded Doser a total of $205,000 in damages. The jury also found that the fault attributable to Doser warranted reduction of the award by 20% (amounting to $41,000), causing a net verdict in favor of Doser in the amount of $164,000. The court entered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and denied Savage's post-trial motion. Savage appeals.

Savage argues that the jury's verdict must be reversed because the evidence showed that the hydraulic press was equipped with adequate safety features and sufficient warnings. With regard to whether the press should have been made with safety guard surrounding the point of operation, Savage maintains that plaintiff's evidence established that no guards were required. Savage's argument is premised on the testimony of plaintiff's expert that if the press was multifunctional, it could not be equipped by Savage with any particular kind of point of operation safety guard. Savage asserts that the documents submitted to it by Chrysler's broker, and the multiple uses to which Chrysler put the press after it was purchased ...

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