When a tragic accident happens on the factory floor, you may find yourself looking for someone to blame, and to pay for your injuries. Often, that someone is the manufacturer of the factory equipment. But a recent Michigan Supreme Court case says even when a worker was crushed by factory equipment, the court must consider whether the injury was caused by not foreseeable misuse of the product.
Worker Crushed by Factory Equipment
Steven Iliades worked for Flexible Products Company, which produces molded rubber automotive parts. On June 10, 2011, his press was down. He got assigned to Press Number 25, a 500-ton vertical rubber molding press manufactured by Dieffenbacher North America, Inc.
The press creates rubber products by pressing together two large “platens” (plates) equipped with interchangeable molds. The press then injects rubber between the molds to create the product. All together the cycle takes less than 10 minutes. Then the press stops, and operator – in this case Iliades – removes the finished product.
The process isn’t perfect. Sometimes pieces of rubber fall to the floor of the press. When that happens, operators are told to place the press in manual mode, and then reach into the press to remove the rubber. The press is equipped with a “light curtain” which turns it off when any foreign object passes in front of the opening to the press. On some models, once the safety device is triggered the press must be restarted manually. But on Press Number 25, the automatic cycle resumes as soon as the light curtain is no longer interrupted.
But Iliades did not put the press into manual mode before cleaning up the scrap rubber. To reach the fallen rubber, Iliades had to stretch his entire torso and back inside the press. Somehow, this left Iliades entirely behind the light curtain, triggering the press to restart its cycle. The two plates of the press came together on Illiade’s back and torso, trapping him inside the device. It took coworkers about 15 minutes to free him.
As a result of the workplace accident, Illiades suffered serious fractures in his back and severe burns. He also has continuing chronic pain, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder because of the incident.
Defective Product or Not Foreseeable Misuse?
Illiades sued Dieffenbacher for his injuries based on product defects related to the safety mechanisms on the press. But the manufacturer said that by climbing partway into the press, Iliades had misused the press in a way that was not reasonably foreseeable. Michigan law says a “manufacturer or seller is not liable in a product liability action for harm caused by misuse of a product unless the misuse was reasonably foreseeable.” Misuse is defined as using the product:
- Other than according to its specifications or standards
- Contrary to instructions or warnings by the manufacturer, seller, or another person with training in the use of the product
- In ways a reasonably prudent person would not consider suitable in a similar situation
Simply misusing a product does not automatically mean the manufacturer or seller is off the hook for your injuries. The company will still be liable for product defects if at the time the product was made, the manufacturer was or should have been aware that the misuse was likely to occur. This could depend on common practice of others using similar products, or it could be inherent to the product itself.
It was relatively clear that Iliades had misused the press by climbing into it without setting it to manual mode. He had been using similar presses for a year and had been instructed to use manual mode to clean out the rubber. But the Michigan Supreme Court said no one in the case had evaluated whether or not that misuse was reasonably foreseeable using the proper standard.
When factory equipment causes serious injury, the manufacturer will almost always claim the harm was caused by your own misuse. It may say, “if you had followed instructions, no one would have gotten hurt.” But manufacturers are required to do more than just send instructions. If the manufacturer can reasonably foresee someone making the same mistake you did, your personal injury attorney may still help you to be compensated for your loss.
At Macomb Law Group, our product liability attorneys know that a misuse defense doesn’t end the case. If you have been injured by defective factory equipment, contact Macomb Law Group and get our team working for you.