United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
May 25, 2004.
IRSHARD KARIM, and ZORINA KARIM, h/w Plaintiffs,
TANABE MACHINERY, LTD., Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. JOYNER, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of
Defendant Tanabe Machinery, LTD ("Defendant" or "Tanabe"). Plaintiffs,
Irshard and Zorina Karim ("Plaintiffs" or "Karim"), filed a Complaint in
this matter seeking damages arising from a workplace injury under
theories of strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty.
Subsequently, Plaintiffs limited their theory of recovery solely to
strict products liability under section 402A of the Restatement (Second)
of Torts. See Plf.'s Motion in Limine at ¶ 8; Plf's Answer
to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment at ¶s 1-2. Plaintiffs
allege that Defendant manufactured and installed a complicated and
expensive box folding machine which contained unguarded chains and
sprockets within arms reach of operators. Defendant Tanabe has filed this
Summary Judgment Motion citing theories of Assumption of the Risk, the
Avoidable Consequences Doctrine, and Proximate Cause in support of this motion. For the following
reasons, Defendant's Motion shall be GRANTED.
On February 7, 2001, Plaintiff Irshard Karim was employed at
Mid-Atlantic Packaging in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, as the operator
of a large corrugated cardboard folding machine manufactured by Defendant
Tanabe. Plaintiff began his shift on this evening by programming the
Tanabe 1, a machine which folds corrugated cardboard for complicated box
designs. The process of programming the Tanabe 1 required the plaintiff
to enter a series of codes into the computers located at each stage of
the Tanabe 1. During the set-up process, several gear driven chains and
sprockets move. At the time of plaintiff's injury, there was an unguarded
sprocket and chain located at the rear of the machine. After plaintiff
punched in the last set of codes for the automatic set-up into the
computer, he noticed the manual control switch box was hanging down at
the rear of the machine. The previous shift's operator had left the
control box in the "down" position in close proximity to the unguarded
sprocket and chain. Normally, the manual control switch box is left in
the "up" position where it is not near any of the moving parts of the
Tanabe. In an attempt to re-position the manual control switch box,
plaintiff reached in to take it. A metal ring attached to the top of the
manual control switch caught in the unguarded sprocket and pulled the plaintiff's hand into the machine. As a
result, plaintiff's finger was partially amputated by the chain and
On January 24, 2003, Plaintiff Karim filed a Complaint seeking damages
arising from this workplace injury. At this time, Defendant Tanabe
requests that this court grant summary judgment under Rule 56(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and enter an Order dismissing
plaintiff's suit in its entirety.
I. Summary Judgment Standard
In deciding a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56(c), a court
must determine "whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, and,
if not, whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Medical Protective Co. v. Watkins, 198 F.3d 100, 103 (3d
Cir. 1999). When making this determination, courts should view the facts,
and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party. See, e.g., Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). For its part, the
non-moving party must, through affidavits, admissions, depositions, or
other evidence, demonstrate that a genuine issue exists for trial.
See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). "A mere
scintilla of evidence" in the nonmovant's favor will not avoid summary judgment. William v. Borough of
West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Anderson
v. Liberty, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249). Rather, we will grant summary
judgment unless "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return
a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
II. Summary Judgment Is Granted In This Case
Under Pennsylvania law, assumption of the risk remains a complete
defense to a strict liability claim, as well as a negligence claim.
Dillinger v. Caterpillar, Inc., 959 F.2d 430, 445 (3d Cir.
1992). In order to prevail under the assumption of the risk defense, a
defendant must show that "plaintiff knew of the defect and voluntarily
and unreasonably proceeded to use the product or encounter a known
danger." Wagner v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., 890 F.2d 652,
657 (3d Cir. 1989). The defense of assumption of the risk requires
defendant to show that the plaintiff was subjectively aware of the facts
which created the danger; thus, only if a plaintiff fully understands the
specific risk, voluntarily chooses to encounter it, under circumstances
that manifest a willingness to accept it, is he said to have assumed the
risk. Gonzalez v. Brandtjen & kluge. Inc., 1991 WL 208802
(E.D. Pa. 1991).
Taking into consideration Plaintiff's deposition testimony presented to this court, we find that reasonable minds could not
differ that Plaintiff assumed a known risk under circumstances that
indicate an abandonment of a right to complain. See Kupetz v. Deere
& Co., Inc., 644 A.2d 1213, 1220 (Pa. Super. 1994).
Plaintiff testified that he was concerned that the control box would
get caught in the chains because the unit was hanging down within inches
of the moving sprocket, while the machine was in the automatic setup
mode. Plf.'s Dep. at 86; Plf.'s Mem. at 2. Plaintiff further testified
that in reaching for the control box, he made special effort not to grab
the chain because he knew that if he was not careful with his fingers,
they could get in the chain and get pinched. Plf.'s Dep. at 98-99. Once
plaintiff grabbed the control box, he tilted upward causing the loop in
the chain and the metal ring attached to the control box to get caught in
the sprocket. Plf.'s Dep. at 99; Plf.'s Mem. at 2. Consequently,
Plaintiff's hand was pulled into the machine where his right middle
finger was partially amputated by the chain and sprocket. Plf.'s Mem. at
We find that the Plaintiff was aware of the "known danger" before he
proceeded to grab the box, and thus assumed the risk of his injury.
Plaintiff's deposition testimony demonstrates his subjective awareness of
the risk of the box getting caught in the chain, as well as the risk of
his fingers getting pinched if he put them too close to the chain. Yet,
Plaintiff proceeded in the face of this danger and grabbed the box. Just as Plaintiff feared,
the box got caught and his hand was pulled into the chain and sprocket.
In light of Plaintiff's awareness of this risk, his decision to grab the
box was unreasonable. Thus, taking the evidence in the light most
favorable to the Plaintiff, we find that no genuine issue of fact
remains, and Defendant must prevail as a matter of law. Furthermore, we
find that Plaintiff's self-serving statement that "[he] didn't think
[he] was in harm's way" is inadequate to overcome his admissions
regarding the risk of the box and fingers getting caught. Because we
grant the motion for summary judgment on this basis, we do not need to
reach Defendant's remaining arguments.
An appropriate Order follows. ORDER
AND NOW, this day of May, 2004, upon consideration of the Motion for
Summary Judgment of Defendant Tanabe Machinery Co., Ltd, and responses
thereto, for the reasons stated in the accompanying Memorandum, it is
hereby ORDERED and DECREED as follows:
1) Plaintiffs have elected to no longer pursue
a negligence or breach of warranty claim and
those claims are DISMISSED WITH
2) Summary Judgment is GRANTED in favor of
Defendant as to the remaining strict
products liability claim.