and thereby created the overall conveyor system. The danger -- the transfer point with the unguarded nip point on the upper conveyor -- was associated with the use of the entire conveyor system, not with the use of the Tifco conveyor standing alone. Because it was Nabisco that designed and installed the conveyor system, Tifco, like the manufacturer in Jacobini, is relieved of a duty to warn of a danger associated with the use of the finished product, the two-conveyor system.
Plaintiff cites Fleck v. KDI Sylvan Pools, Inc. in support of her argument that Tifco is liable for not warning of the potential danger from the unguarded rollers at the transfer point. Fleck involved a man who became quadriplegic after diving into a pool three and one-half feet deep and breaking his neck. The jury found that the pool liner was defective because it did not have depth markers or "no diving" warnings. 981 F.2d at 119. The manufacturer of the replacement liner argued on appeal that because its product is a component part incorporated into a final product -- the pool -- it was relieved of its duty to warn about the danger of diving. Id. at 117. The Third Circuit held that the manufacturer was not relieved of its duty to warn. Id. at 119.
This case is the opposite of Fleck. In that case, the defective component, the pool liner, made the system, the pool, unsafe. Here, the component was free of defect and the defect in the finished system was the fault of other persons. Tifco cannot be held liable for a failure to warn about a defect which it did not create and about which it had no knowledge. See Petrucelli v. Bohringer Ratzinger, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2921 at *20 (E.D. Pa. March 10, 1994).
Finally, plaintiff argues that Tifco's conveyor was defective for lacking OSHA-required safety features -- a guard for the nip point and an emergency stop button.
Tifco presented evidence that its conveyor complied with appropriate OSHA specifications, although it does not specify what those required features are. (Hinkle dep., pp. 36, 75). Mr. Hinkle stated that the Tifco conveyor would not utilize rollers because it was not a belt conveyor. Plaintiff offers no evidence to the contrary, or that the Tifco conveyor should have had a guard, or in and of itself was unreasonably dangerous in any way. Therefore, Tifco cannot be held liable for lacking a non-required guard for a non-existent nip point.
There was no evidence about an emergency stop button, but assuming that the Tifco conveyor did not have one, this alleged defect cannot be said to have caused Ms. Willis' injury.
There is no evidence that stopping only the Tifco conveyor would have prevented Ms. Willis from being pulled between the rollers of the upper conveyor. What might have been helpful for Ms. Willis would have been an emergency switch to stop the upper conveyor or perhaps both conveyors. The type and placement of such an emergency switch and whether it would stop both conveyors or only one, were not matters within Tifco's control and knowledge. They were entirely dependent upon how the ultimate conveyor system would operate, where personnel would be stationed, and what their various jobs would entail.
It is regrettable that the manufacturer of the upper, belt conveyor is unknown. Ms. Willis' injury occurred when she was pulled into the unguarded rollers of the upper conveyor, for which there was no emergency stop button within her reach. Defendants are not fungible, however, and merely because Tifco is a known manufacturer of a conveyor does not mean that it could be found liable for an accident allegedly caused by the defective product of the unknown conveyor manufacturer.
Judgment must be granted in favor of Tifco on plaintiff's strict liability claim.
In order to succeed in her negligence action against Tifco, plaintiff must show evidence of: (1) a duty under the law requiring Tifco to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) failure to conform to the standard; (3) which actually and proximately caused (4) actual damage. See Griggs v. BIC Corp., 981 F.2d 1429, 1434 (3d Cir. 1992). It is difficult to tell the precise bases for plaintiff's negligence claim because her response to Tifco's motion intersperses "duty" language (negligence) with "defect" language (strict liability) and, in fact, discusses primarily the latter.
Nonetheless, it seems that plaintiff is contending that Tifco is liable because it breached its duty to manufacture the conveyor system in compliance with OSHA standards.
As discussed in the strict liability section above, plaintiff argues that Tifco's conveyor did not meet OSHA standards regarding nip point guards and emergency stops. Tifco offers evidence that its product did comply. This disagreement is not a genuine issue of material fact, however, because when the plaintiff talks about a conveyor with a nip point that should be guarded, she is not talking about the Tifco conveyor.
In his earlier report, written before it became clear that Tifco had not manufactured the upper conveyor, plaintiff's expert discussed the OSHA standards for belt conveyors. There is now no dispute that Tifco manufactured only the lower, tabletop conveyor, which does not utilize rollers and so would not have a nip point. Plaintiff has not presented evidence tending to show that Tifco's conveyor had rollers or an unguarded nip point, or that it did not comply with applicable OSHA standards. Moreover, plaintiff has not presented evidence that OSHA regulations imposed upon Tifco any duty to ensure that the pre-existing, upper conveyor, built by an unknown manufacturer, was up to regulatory standards or had safety devices. Therefore, in the absence of some duty imposed by law, regulation, or common sense, Tifco is not liable for the alleged breach of the unknown manufacturer's duty to provide safety features on the belt conveyor.
Plaintiff also argues that Tifco was negligent for not having an emergency stop button on its conveyor. Tifco does not offer specific evidence that its conveyor had emergency kill switches, although it says that its conveyor complied with OSHA regulations. Assuming the inference favorable to the non-moving party, that is, that the lower conveyor lacked an emergency kill switch, Tifco is not liable. There is no evidence that Tifco knew or should have known that there was a nip point on the upper conveyor, and that Tifco's conveyor should therefore have an emergency stop button in close proximity because someone might get injured at the nip point. For example, Mr. Hinkle stated that Tifco had not been provided with photographs of any existing equipment at Nabisco prior to manufacturing its conveyor, and that Tifco had no idea what type of conveyor was the existing conveyor. (Hinkle dep., pp. 52, 69). Moreover, there is evidence, unrefuted by plaintiff, that the drawings which Nabisco gave to Tifco did not indicate where employees would be stationed along the conveyor system. (Hinkle dep., p. 33). Thus, even if Tifco had known that the upper conveyor was a belt conveyor with an unguarded nip point, plaintiff has not offered any evidence suggesting that Tifco knew an employee would be stationed near the nip point, and that there should therefore be an emergency stop button at that position on Tifco's conveyor. Because there is no evidence that Tifco had knowledge of the unguarded nip point on the upper conveyor or that an employee would be stationed at that point, and because there is no evidence that halting the Tifco conveyor would have prevented Ms. Willis' injuries, Tifco is not liable under a negligence theory for not having an emergency kill switch on its conveyor.
In short, Tifco is not liable in negligence for the alleged lack of safety features on the upper conveyor, or for the lack of an emergency stop button at the transfer point where Ms. Willis was injured. Tifco's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's negligence claim must therefore be granted.
III. RELIANCE ELECTRIC, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Reliance is alleged to have supplied an electric gearmotor, one which has a wide variety of applications, but which in this case powered the conveyor system. Reliance maintains that its motor was purchased out of a Reliance catalog, (Reliance Mot. for Summ. J., ex. D), and would start, run, and stop only at the direction of equipment supplied by others.
A. Strict Liability
Reliance's motion for summary judgment, and plaintiffs' opposition to it, raise many of the same factual and legal issues discussed above. Regrettably, they also pose the same difficulty in ascertaining the nature of the negligence claim as separate from the strict liability claim. Reliance argues that it manufactured a non-dangerous component part installed by someone else, and for that reason there is no liability under Pennsylvania caselaw. Reliance also argues that it is not required to warn of known dangers.
Plaintiff claims that Reliance's motor was defective because it lacked a warning to install the motor in compliance with OSHA standards. Her expert states,
Reliance should have included a permanently affixed, effective instruction/warning label on their product that stated that the product and all devices used to control it must be installed in accordance with OSHA regulations. If such a label . . . had been provided on the gearmotor, Tifco and/or Nabisco would have, more likely than not, installed the required shutoff switch.
(Pl.'s Opp. to Mot. for Summ. J., ex. 5 (p. 11 of August report)).
Plaintiff asserts in an affidavit that had there been a posted warning of the need for an emergency kill switch, she would have asked her employer if such a switch were available and if not, why. What neither plaintiff nor her expert offer, however, is any evidence that Reliance knew its motor was being used to power a conveyor, or that Nabisco was unaware of the applicable OSHA regulations. In fact, the evidence shows just the opposite.
While Reliance has stated that powering a conveyor system was one application for its gearmotor, it has also offered evidence showing that its motors are not specified as being for any particular use, and that several factors go into selecting the proper gearmotor. (Reliance Mot. for Summ. J., ex. D). Reliance has also offered evidence that its employees were never at the Nabisco plant in connection with the conveyor system and were only at the plant for other reasons. (Berger dep., p. 36). Plaintiff has offered no evidence tending to show that Reliance knew its gearmotor would be used in this instance to power a conveyor system.
It strains common sense to expect that the manufacturer of an electric motor, capable of many applications, who has neither installed the motor nor been made aware of how it would operate at the plant in question, would be expected to predict that the motor would be used in a bakery to power a conveyor, and therefore, that a warning label referencing OSHA § 1910.263 (concerning emergency stop buttons for bakery conveyors) should be affixed. Moreover, there is unrefuted evidence that Nabisco, which obviously knew it utilized conveyors in its bakery operations, was aware of the relevant OSHA requirements. Vince Berger, a Nabisco employee, stated that he was familiar with OSHA regulations regarding conveyor systems and motor shut-offs, and that it was part of Nabisco's corporate culture to be familiar with OSHA regulations. (Berger dep., pp. 36-37). Plaintiff's expert does not claim that Reliance should have installed the emergency switch, only that it should have warned Tifco or Nabisco to do so. Given the unrefuted evidence that Nabisco was already aware of the OSHA requirements, the motor cannot be considered defective for not having a warning about something which the intended recipient already knew.
Plaintiff offers no evidence tending to show that the motor itself was dangerous, only that using it to power a conveyor system where there was a hazard required that the system be equipped with an emergency stop button. Reliance, however, is not required to investigate how its safe motor is used, and whether it is being used in accordance with OSHA regulations. Petrucelli, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2921 at *20. Therefore, the gearmotor cannot be considered unreasonably dangerous for lacking a warning that it should be installed in compliance with federal regulations. Reliance's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's strict liability claim must be granted.
Plaintiff asserts as negligence the failure to warn that the gearmotor should be installed with an emergency kill switch in accordance with OSHA regulations. Her expert maintains that Reliance had a "duty to exercise reasonable care in assuring that the installation of their [sic] product . . . would be in accordance with federal regulations." (emphasis added). Plaintiff has offered no law to support this proposition, as likely there is none where, as here, there is no evidence that Reliance knew its gearmotor was being incorporated into a conveyor system, no evidence that Reliance had any input into the design or installation of the conveyor system, and no evidence that Reliance had anything to do with the design or installation of the electrical system which controlled the motor that powered the conveyor system.
Plaintiff has cited no case law supporting the proposition that the manufacturer of a generic, non-defective component has a duty to ascertain how its product will be used by the purchaser and to warn that the purchaser should use the product in compliance with the relevant federal regulations. In the absence of such a duty requiring Reliance to warn that its gearmotor should be installed with the safety feature mandated by OSHA § 1910.263, Reliance's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's negligence claim must be granted.
An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 4th day of November, 1994, it is hereby ordered that:
1. the motion for summary judgment of defendant, Tifco, Inc., is GRANTED, and judgment is entered for defendant and against plaintiff; and
2. the motion for summary judgment of defendant, Reliance Electric, Inc., is GRANTED, and judgment is entered for defendant and against plaintiff.
BY THE COURT:
J. William Ditter, Jr., J.