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01/19/95 RANDY SMITH v. BLACK & DECKER (U.S.)

January 19, 1995

RANDY SMITH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BLACK & DECKER (U.S.), INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois. No. 92-L-6400. Honorable Herman Haase, Judge, Presiding.

Present - Honorable Tom M. Lytton, Justice. Honorable William E. Holdridge, Justice. Honorable Kent Slater, Justice.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Holdridge

The Honorable Justice HOLDRIDGE delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Randy Smith, brought a product liability action against defendant, Black & Decker (U.S.), Inc., seeking damages for injuries occasioned by plaintiff's use of a power miter saw manufactured by defendant. Plaintiff alleged that the near complete amputation of his left hand was the proximate result of defendant's failure to place a guard on the lower right side of the saw blade. The case was submitted to a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. The trial court denied plaintiff's post-trial motion for judgment not withstanding the verdict, or alternatively, for a new trial, and entered judgment on the verdict.

On appeal, plaintiff maintains that the trial court committed reversible error in: (1) granting defendant's motion in limine to bar evidence of a post-manufacture, but pre-injury design modification that added a lower right blade guard; (2) granting defendant's motion in limine to bar evidence of correspondence between defendant's witness and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) from September 1978 through May 1981; and (3) barring testimony of two plaintiff's witnesses as a sanction for failure to disclose timely their identity in response to discovery requests. We affirm.

At trial, the plaintiff testified he was using a Model 7717 power miter saw, manufactured by the defendant, to cut and install baseboard in his basement. The saw was in the right miter position and plaintiff was cutting the baseboard with an inside right miter cut. The saw was placed on the floor in a 45 degree right miter angle, and the plaintiff knelt in front of the saw with his right hand on the saw's trigger and his left hand on the work piece, supporting it against the fence of the saw. Plaintiff further testified that after he completed a cut, he released the trigger and stood up simultaneously. He then reached down with his right hand to grasp the piece of wood he had just cut, when his left hand moved into the unguarded lower right saw blade.

Plaintiff was transported to a local hospital by ambulance and air-lifted to Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois. The plaintiff was examined by Dr. Kenneth L. Schiffman, a medical doctor specializing in orthopedic surgery and hand surgery. Dr. Schiffman determined, after consultation with Dr. Hatem Galal, a plastic surgeon specializing in reconstructive hand surgery, that it was not feasible to salvage the hand and it was amputated.

Dr. Schiffman testified that the plaintiff suffered extensive damage to the wrist, including the complete severing of wrist bones, arteries and tendons. A bridge of skin, located along the back of the wrist and running to the small finger, was all that remained intact. Dr. Schiffman opined that the plaintiff's injuries were consistent with a lateral motion of the hand into a blade, which caused the wrist to be pulled into the blade. On cross-examination, Dr. Schiffman agreed that the injuries were also consistent with the saw having been brought down upon the radial aspect of the wrist.

Donald Clark, a registered professional engineer who had been defendant's project engineer for the Model 7717 power miter saw when it was manufactured in 1978, testified for the plaintiff. Clark testified that he saw nothing unforeseeable about the way the plaintiff utilized the saw, and that plaintiff's injury was foreseeable. He further opined that the Model 7717 saw was unreasonably dangerous due to the fact that the saw lacked a guard on the lower right side, and the absence of that guard was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury.

During Clark's testimony, the jury was shown a power miter saw that employed a blade guard which, in his opinion, could have prevented plaintiff's injury. Using this saw as a demonstrative exhibit, Clark demonstrated to the jury how he believed the presence of a lower right blade guard would have prevented plaintiff's injury.

On cross-examination, Clark testified that the plaintiff had told him that the accident happened when he was making a 45 degree right miter cut holding a piece of wood at the right side of the blade with his left hand. When he had cut only part of the way through the wood, the blade made contact with the back of his hand drawing his wrist into the blade.

Defendant argued this testimony was consistent with its theory that the plaintiff had actually brought the saw blade down onto his wrist while the saw was still under power. It was uncontroverted that if plaintiff had brought the saw down onto his wrist while the saw was still under power, the presence of a lower right blade guard would not have prevented the injury.

Plaintiff called Daniel M. Montague, defendant's safety assurance manager since 1987, as an adverse witness. Montague testified that he had given testimony on behalf of the defendant in prior trials involving claims similar to the one brought by plaintiff, including lawsuits filed by Robert Stukel and Jerry Ross. Montague admitted to being aware of five other lawsuits involving a hand contacting the unguarded blade from the right side.

Plaintiff also presented the testimony of Stanley B. Kalin, a safety engineer with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. Kalin testified that, in his opinion, the saw was unreasonably dangerous in that the lower right portion of the blade was unguarded. He further opined that the lack of a guard was the cause of the plaintiff's injury.

Defendant presented testimony from a paramedic and an ambulance attendant, each of whom testified that the plaintiff told them that he had accidently brought the saw blade ...


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