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05/19/89 Richard Broussard Et Al., v. Houdaille Industries

May 19, 1989

RICHARD BROUSSARD ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES

v.

HOUDAILLE INDUSTRIES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, FIFTH DIVISION

539 N.E.2d 360, 183 Ill. App. 3d 739, 132 Ill. Dec. 50 1989.IL.773

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Robert G. Mackey, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE COCCIA delivered the opinion of the court. MURRAY, P.J., and PINCHAM, J., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE COCCIA

This is an appeal from plaintiffs' verdict in a products liability case, tried upon a strict liability theory, returned against Surty Manufacturing Co., manufacturer of a gate guard safety system. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Richard Broussard for injuries which he received while operating a press brake machine without the use of any safety device, and in favor of his wife for loss of her husband's services.

The press brake was a multifunctional industrial machine, manufactured by the codefendant, Houdaille Industries, whom the jury found not responsible to Broussard. The press brake was equipped with a palm button safety device manufactured by others and with the Surty gate guard safety system, manufactured and installed by the Surty Manufacturing Co., appellant.

Surty asks this court to reverse the verdict and judgment entered below and assigns several errors in support thereof. As it is our opinion that this case must be reversed on the issue of proximate cause, we need not undertake a review of the additional alleged errors.

The evidence in this case brought out the following facts. In 1976, the Rock-Ola Company, Broussard's employer, purchased a gate guard system from Surty. Surty manufactured the unit and installed it upon the press brake machine in October 1976. Broussard was injured in November 1977. The press brake was a multifunctional industrial machine used by Rock-Ola to form metal pieces. The gate guard was a plastic unit, intended to protect the operator's hands when the press was activated. It is at the point of operation that a piece is formed through the operation of the force delivered by a descending ram.

Henry Will, Rock-Ola's setup man, testified that it was his responsibility to employ judgment and discretion in choosing the mode and procedure to be employed by a given press operator, including which safety device, if any, was to be employed on a given job. The size and compatibility of the piece being formed were factors that entered into his consideration.

On the day of the accident, Will had decided that Broussard would operate the press through the use of the foot pedals and would not utilize any safety device in the operation, due to the size of the unit being formed. The piece being worked on by Broussard at the time of the occurrence was about two to three feet long and from 6 to 10 inches wide, resulting in approximately six inches of the piece protruding, which required that it be held by the operator until the second hit of the ram.

Will had at least two safety devices to choose from to protect the operator during the forming process. One of the safety devices was the palm buttons, which required the operator to place both hands on the buttons to operate the press, thereby keeping his hands away from the point of operation. The other safety device was the Surty gate guard system which, when activated, had the same purpose as the palm buttons, namely, to keep the operator's hands away from the point of operation.

The palm buttons were available when the use of the safety gate was inappropriate. If the gate guard was the safety device of choice at a particular moment, then the palm buttons would not be engaged; conversely, if the palm buttons were being engaged, the gate would not be used.

The gate guard safety system, on the judgment of the setup man, could be taken out of service completely for any reason, including the possible need to form larger or irregular pieces. In taking the gate out of service for this or any other purpose, the gate guard could not then be employed as a safety device. The gate guard ...


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