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March 30, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable William Maddux, Judge Presiding.

Petition for Leave to Appeal Allowed October 6, 1994.

Tully, Rizzi, Cerda

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tully

PRESIDING JUSTICE TULLY delivered the opinion of the court:

This appeal involves the February 17, 1982, tragic accident of plaintiff Gloria Soto, who lost two of her fingers while operating a drill press, designed and manufactured by defendants. Following a jury trial, a verdict was rendered in favor of defendants. Plaintiff appeals on the basis of numerous trial errors.

On the date of the accident, Soto was employed by the Dabar Stamping Company where she operated brake presses, drill presses, welders and tapping machines. At the time of the accident she was 29-years-old with five years of prior experience operating various presses. On the day of the accident, Soto picked up her gloves at the Dabar office and began work on her assigned drill press. At the time of the injury, Soto was sitting on a stool with one foot on the front of the stool and one foot on the ground. Her hands were at her side and she was about to reach for the air hose in order to clean the shavings from the machine table. Before cleaning the shavings, she planned to turn off the machine but before she could turn it off, she sneezed. Upon sneezing, she lost her balance and slipped forward. Her left hand was then caught by the machine as she reached to hit the off button, and her right hand swung forward causing The fingers on her right hand to be severed by the reamer.

Soto, the only eyewitness to the accident, testified that her injury occurred solely from her being cut by the reamer. She further stated that her right hand was cut when the reamer went between her middle finger and her ring finger. According to Soto, her glove never wrapped around the reamer. After regaining her balance, Soto realized that part of her glove and one finger from her right hand were laying on the table and the reamer was turned off. When she took her left hand away from the power button, the reamer started again. When Soto left the drill press, it was still running and her glove and finger were still on the table but not wrapped around the reamer. She later fainted and was awakened by co-workers in order to be transported to Loyola Hospital. As a result of the incident, Soto suffered the amputation of two fingers from her right hand.

Dr. Juan Angelats, a plastic surgeon at Loyola University's hand clinic, testified that he remembered working with Soto to determine if her fingers were salvageable. He performed surgery on the ring finger and middle finger both of which had been amputated. Because the tissues were not in good condition, Angelats could not restore life to the two severed fingers. He estimated the injury resulted in a 35 percentloss in the function of the right hand. But with regard to strength, he estimated the loss at 50 percent.

Soto later tested positive for carpal tunnel syndrome in the left hand caused by inflammation, as a result of overusage in the stronger hand. Angelats testified that with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the injuries to Soto's right hand were consistent with falling on a cutting tool. He demonstrated how there were cutting edges in the palm of the hand and also around the back of the hand. When asked whether this was consistent with a glove being wrapped around a reamer he replied:

"Usually what we see in those cases is that the whole skin has been removed and turned. In this particular case, * * * you see a cutting edge, [a] very sharp cutting edge in there, so you know, [sic] whether she was wearing gloves or not, I think the cutting affect is there."

After repeated questioning on cross-examination, Dr. Angelats again restated that in the case of a glove getting caught, the "skin gets dislodged from the rest of the tissue."

Dr. Terrence Willis testified as an expert witness on behalf of plaintiff that there are two classes of hazards associated with a drill press. The first hazard relates to the rotating reamer and the danger of coming into contact with the rotating tool. For example, one may inadvertently bump the reamer and then move away, resulting in lacerations. The second type of hazard Willis described as "entanglement" meaning "you get involved with the tool in some way and you can't get back out." Entanglement can be broken down into three sub-categories.

The first group deals with the wearing of a ring on a finger, wherein the rotating tool grabs the ring and injures the finger. The second category is called a "wind up type" where for example someone is wearing loose clothing or a glove which begins to wind around the tool. As the winding becomes tighter the person gets increasingly injured. The third type of entanglement is where the person gets involved with the press and cannot come back out of the rotating tool area. For example, in a slip and fall, there is no wind up but there is the cutting hazard associated with the reamer.

According to Willis, the case at hand falls into the third type of entanglement where there is no wind up situation. This was simply a falling forward into the rotating tool, causing cutting injuries to the hand. Willis also testified that in his opinion, insofar as the likelihood of getting cut, it would not make a difference whether a person was wearing gloves or not. Willis also testified as to the design of the drill press and the safety precautions necessary to protect users. Willisstated that Powermatic had failed to conform to certain general safety principles in that the hazards of its drill press could have been eliminated by design. There needed to be a metal ...

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