Civil Action No. 03-4472.
November 10, 2004
AND NOW, this 10th day of November, 2004, upon consideration of Defendant Industrial Accessories Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 18), and all responses thereto (Docs. No. 21, 24), it is hereby ORDERED that the Motion is DENIED.
Plaintiff has brought this personal injury action against Defendants Industrial Accessories Corporation (IAC) and Smoot Company to recover damages resulting from a workplace accident while he was employed by The Scott's Company. Plaintiff's right thumb was severed by the airlock outlet on a dust collecting apparatus designed, manufactured, and marketed by Defendants. Defendant IAC's motion for summary judgment appears to address only Plaintiff's strict liability claim (Count I).
A motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the evidence demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists "when a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, all facts must be viewed and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See, e.g., Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
Because this case is brought in diversity, this Court must apply the substantive law of Pennsylvania. Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938). Pennsylvania has adopted the Restatement Second of Torts approach to strict liability actions. Webb v. Zern, 220 A.2d 853, 854 (Pa. 1966). To prevail on a claim of strict liability, the plaintiff must show (1) that the defendant sold a product in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition, (2) that the product reached the consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it was sold, and (3) that the defective condition caused the plaintiff or his property physical harm. See Restatement 2d, Torts, § 402A(1); Webb, 220 A.2d at 854. A showing that the defect contributed in any way to the resulting injury satisfies the causation requirement, and precludes the court from considering evidence regarding the plaintiff's own conduct. Jara v. Rexworks Inc., 718 A.2d 788, 793 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1998). However, a defendant in a strict liability action may establish a complete defense under the doctrine of assumption of risk by showing that the plaintiff knew of the product defect, and voluntarily or unreasonably proceeded to use the product or encounter the known danger. Wagner v. Firestone Tire Rubber Co., 890 F.2d 652, 657 (3rd Cir. 1989).
Defendant IAC contends that the dust collecting apparatus was not defective as a matter of law, because it was shipped with installation instructions directing installers to cover the hazardous airlock outlet before connecting to a power source. Defendant claims that while the apparatus is typically shipped with a protective screw conveyor or a hand guard to block the airlock outlet, the dust collector in this case was shipped unguarded because a representative of the purchaser, Scott's, indicated that Scott's would obtain a screw conveyor elsewhere. There are, however, questions of fact as to whether Defendant's original proposal for the Scott's dust collector included a guard for the airlock outlet, and whether Scott's actually informed Defendant that they planned to install a protective screw conveyor on their own. Plaintiffs have presented deposition testimony suggesting that Scott's was considering installing and using the dust collector without a guard for the airlock outlet, that Defendant was aware of this possibility, and that Defendant did not inform Scott's of the risk associated with proceeding in this manner. Because a reasonable juror could find that the dust collecting apparatus was defective when it left the Defendant's hands with an unguarded airlock outlet, we must deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment.
Defendant further contends that Plaintiff assumed the risk of his injury because he was aware that his hand might get caught in the dust collector, knew that it was important to "lockout" a machine before working on it, and did not use the lockout procedure before approaching the apparatus to diagnose it. Plaintiff's deposition testimony, however, indicates that he had never before encountered the dust collector or seen the bottom of the airlock, did not know how the apparatus functioned, and did not know what was underneath the ledge where he placed his hand. Plaintiff further denies that it was necessary to lockout the apparatus in this situation, as he was not attempting to repair, maintain, or clean the apparatus. As there are genuine issues of fact as to whether Defendant knew of the danger posed by the unguarded airlock outlet, and whether his approach was reasonable, this Court cannot conclude as a matter of law that Plaintiff assumed the risk of injury.