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June 19, 1996


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Frank Orlando, Judge Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Rizzi delivered the opinion of the court: Cerda, J., and Greiman, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rizzi

The Honorable Justice RIZZI delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Glenn Bass, brought this product liability action to recover damages for an injury he received while operating a press brake machine (press) that had been manufactured by defendant Cincinnati Incorporated. A jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant, and plaintiff appeals from the judgment entered on the verdict. We affirm.

The press was manufactured by defendant in 1969 and shipped to plaintiff's employer, Trailmobile, in January 1971. Trailmobile is a trailer manufacturer. The press is used to form pieces to related larger parts, by bending or punching metal. It is multifunctional, capable of forming pieces to parts for a wide variety of industries and uses, including the formation of pieces to parts for radiators, light fixtures, elevator panels, partitions, etc. Different tooling and dies are used, depending on the use to which the press is put. Defendant did not sell or distribute tooling or dies to Trailmobile.

At the time the press left defendant's control, it was equipped with alternative methods of operation, one set of dual palm buttons and two foot switches. Dual palm buttons are used to operate the press when forming relatively small pieces, and foot switches are used to operate the press when forming larger pieces that have to be held while the press is functioning. A trailer manufacturer such as Trailmobile may have a need for both uses.

Plaintiff began working for Trailmobile in April of 1977, as a helper in the fabrication department. As a helper, he assisted an operator of press brake machines, making and punching out pieces to parts for semi-trailer vehicles. The only training that plaintiff received for the operation of the machines consisted of someone running a few parts through the operating machines and showing plaintiff how the operation was performed. The particular machine was then turned over to plaintiff to finish the job.

Trailmobile had set-up men who would make measurements and adjustments on the machines before operation for particular projects. On the day of the accident, May 16, 1977, Doug Armer, set-up the press for plaintiff to operate. Armer testified that on that day, he gave plaintiff warnings about the dangers of the machine. He warned plaintiff three times before operating the press not to put his hands in the press. Armer was face-to-face with plaintiff when he gave each of the three warnings to plaintiff. Armer was less then five feet away from plaintiff when the warnings were given.

Plaintiff had used the press on three or four prior occasions before the accident; on those occasions he used the machine along with another operator. At the time of the accident, the function he was performing was one which was done by a single operator. The selection of either dual palm buttons or foot switches is made by the set-up person using a key controlled selector.

Plaintiff was standing in front of the press, and punching a quarter inch sheet of aluminum measuring approximately twelve inches long by six inches wide. Because the holes were not aligned when he used the press for this operation, plaintiff determined it was necessary to make an adjustment. He attempted to do this by putting his right arm between the upper and lower dies of the press. When he did this, he also apparently depressed the foot switch on the press, and the press became activated, severely injuring his arm between the wrist and elbow. After the accident, a maintenance supervisor determined that all controls were operating properly on the press. There appears to have been no functional defect in the press.

Plaintiff's arm was surgically treated, and the arm was not amputated. Six years later, however, the same arm was traumatically amputated in an unrelated motorcycle accident. In the present lawsuit, plaintiff seeks damages from the time of the press accident until the motorcycle accident.

At trial, plaintiff acknowledged that he knew that it was dangerous to put his hands between the upper and lower dies on the press. He also knew before the accident that he could be seriously injured if he put any part of his body between the dies and depressed the foot switch. He also knew that the press was on, as opposed to being turned off, at the time. He testified, however, that he did not know that he could have gone around the back of the press to make an adjustment, and to turn the press off.

One of plaintiff's expert witnesses was Donald Pull. Pull is a non-degreed, mechanical engineer with one year of training. He has no disclosed qualification to express opinions as a statistician. Pull is Chairman of Lightguards Ltd., which is a British company with its place of business in Hertfordshire, England. Pull's company developed a safety sensing device called Lightguard. No attempt was ever made to market Lightguard in the United States.

Pull's testimony was given by videotape evidence deposition taken at Hertfordshire, England. Pull's expert opinions were admitted into evidence, and hearsay data underlying his opinions was admitted into evidence to explain and illustrate his opinions. The trial court, however, ruled that Pull's hearsay testimony of United Kingdom government statistics was not sufficiently reliable to be admitted into ...

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