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RHEA JEAN THOMPSON AND LEE THOMPSON AND PIPER AIRCRAFT CORPORATION v. MOTCH & MERRYWEATHER MACHINERY COMPANY (10/22/86)

filed: October 22, 1986.

RHEA JEAN THOMPSON AND LEE THOMPSON AND PIPER AIRCRAFT CORPORATION
v.
MOTCH & MERRYWEATHER MACHINERY COMPANY, A CORPORATION, AND CANRON, INC., A CORPORATION. APPEAL OF RHEA JEAN THOMPSON AND LEE THOMPSON



Appeal from Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, No. GD 79-25145.

COUNSEL

Paul E. Moses, Pittsburgh, for appellants.

Stephen M. Houghton, Pittsburgh, for appellees.

Rowley, Wieand and Del Sole, JJ.

Author: Wieand

[ 358 Pa. Super. Page 151]

Rhea Jean Thompson sustained injuries to her arm and hand when it became caught between dies of a power press while she was at work. She commenced an action seeking to impose strict liability for a defectively designed press against Canron, Inc. (Canron), the manufacturer, and Motch & Merryweather Machinery Co. (Motch), who had sold the press to her employer. The jury which heard the evidence returned a verdict for the defendants. A motion for new trial was denied, and judgment was entered on the verdict. This appeal followed by Mrs. Thompson and her husband.*fn1

Mrs. Thompson was employed as a power press operator by Piper Aircraft Corporation (Piper), an airplane manufacturer. Throughout her employment by Piper, she had worked on a press manufactured by Canron and sold to Piper by Motch. The press was equipped with a hydraulically-operated ram, to which a die could be fitted. When the ram was lowered, the die would exert pressure against an opposing die attached to the bed of the machine. The machine was used by Piper primarily for the purpose of flattening and forming various sizes of metal sheets for use as airplane parts.

The press could be operated in one of two ways: (1) by pressing dual hand buttons; or (2) by depressing a foot pedal. The mode of operation could be determined by the operator by turning a key located near the hand buttons. In order to operate the press by use of the hand buttons, both buttons had to be depressed simultaneously. Use of the hand button control system prevented the operator from placing his or her hands between the dies while the machine was in operation. When the foot pedal was used, however,

[ 358 Pa. Super. Page 152]

    it was possible for an operator to put his or her hand in the work area while operating the press.

During the operation of the machine, it was not uncommon for objects being pressed to become dislodged from the die. The press, as designed and manufactured by Canron and sold to Piper, had contained no device to prevent the dislodged pieces from falling from the rear of the die to the floor. To retrieve these fallen objects, an operator would be required to walk around the press and pick up the material from the floor. Seeking to avert this inconvenience, Piper welded a metal apron onto the rear of the press sometime after purchase. The apron effectively prevented pieces from falling from the die to the floor. An operator using the machine as modified by Piper, therefore, was able to reach across the work area of the press to retrieve material which had fallen from the die onto the apron.

On May 4, 1978, Mrs. Thompson was operating the press by foot pedal, while using it to flatten quarter-sized metal discs. After each application of the ram, she would clear the die and reload it with her hands. While she was operating the machine, the ram descended on her right hand and wrist, inflicting injuries for which she claimed damages in the instant suit.

It was Mrs. Thompson's contention at trial that the press had been defectively designed because it lacked a guard or device which would protect against injury to the operator's hands while the ram was being activated by the foot pedal. To support this contention, she offered the testimony of Morton Markowitz, a mechanical engineer, who testified that there existed feasible devices which could have been employed to make safer the operation of ...


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