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Spowal v. Itw Food Equipment Group LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 3, 2013

CECILIA SPOWAL, et al, Plaintiffs,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For CECILIA SPOWAL, and, JOSEPH SPOWAL, her husband, Plaintiffs: Carl R. Schiffman, Schiffman & Wojdowski, Pittsburgh, PA.

For ITW FOOD EQUIPMENT GROUP LLC, Defendant: Andrew H. Cox, PRO HAC VICE, Elizabeth B. Wright, PRO HAC VICE, Stacey A. Greenwell, PRO HAC VICE, Thompson Hine LLP, Cleveland, OH; Kenneth S. Mroz, Swartz Campbell, Pittsburgh, PA.


Maurice B. Cohill, Jr., Senior United States District Judge.

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Presently pending before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed on behalf of the Defendant, ITW Food Equipment Group LLC (" ITW FEG" ), against the Plaintiff, Cecilia Spowal, who injured her hand while working with a commercial food mixer manufactured by ITW FEG. On August 4, 2010, Ms. Spowal filed a Complaint alleging strict liability under the Restatement (Second) of Torts (Count I), negligence (Count II), and breach of the implied warranties of merchantability and/or fitness for a particular use (Count III). [ECF No. 1] Her husband, Joseph Spowal, asserts a loss of consortium claim (Count IV). Id. at ¶ ¶ 24-25. We have diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

For the reasons stated herein, the Motion will be granted.

I. Standard of Review

In adjudicating a Motion for Summary Judgment, we apply the well-established legal standard presently set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), pursuant to which summary judgment shall be granted when no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. " A disputed fact is 'material' if it would affect the outcome of the suit as determined by the substantive law." Bouriez v. Carnegie Mellon Univ., 585 F.3d 765, 771 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation and citation omitted). A factual dispute is " genuine," and thus warrants a trial, " if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). " The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. at 252.

" In determining if there is a genuine issue of material fact, '[i]nferences . . . drawn from the underlying facts . . . must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. The non-movant's allegations must be taken as true and, when these assertions conflict with those of the movant, the former must receive the benefit of the doubt.'" Valhal Corp. v. Sullivan Assocs., Inc., 44 F.3d 195, 200 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976)). However, summary judgment must be entered against any party unable to present sufficient evidence in support of an essential element of a claim because " a complete failure of proof concerning

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an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

II. Background

Unless otherwise stated, the following facts are not in dispute.

On August 9, 2008, the Plaintiff, Cecilia Spowal, while working in the bakery at BiLo supermarket in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, injured her hand while operating a large commercial food mixer. The mixer was a Hobart model V-1401, manufactured by the Defendant, ITW FEG, and sold to BiLo Supermarket in 1989. It stands nearly six feet tall and more than two feet wide and encompasses a 140 quart bowl. Its basic parts include a stand, a mixing paddle, and a bowl. In order for the paddle to rotate, the mixer must be turned on. When in use, the mixer's bowl is raised so that the paddle is down inside the bowl while operating. Therefore, the bowl surrounds the paddle and acts as a guard to prevent an operator from inadvertently contacting the paddle. Once turned off, there is a short wind-down time before the paddle comes to a complete stop. There were no warnings or instructions on or around the mixer on the day of the accident.

On the day of her injury, Ms. Spowal had been at work in the bakery department since 5:00 a.m. At about 1:15 p.m., Ms. Spowal was making peanut butter filling for doughnuts and added peanut butter to the mixture already in the bowl and turned on the mixer. After five or six minutes, she turned the mixer off and as the paddle was slowing down but still rotating, she stuck her hand into the mixer and used the top of the paddle to wipe peanut butter off her bare hand. She testified that there were numerous other times when she had wiped something off her hand onto the paddle. Ms. Spowal's hand slipped off the paddle and got stuck between the paddle and the inside of the bowl, causing her to sustain a serious permanent injury to her right hand.

Ms. Spowal testified that she had used the mixer one or two times a day for more than two years prior to the accident and that it was obvious that users should not put their hands in the mixer while the paddle was rotating. However, she testified that she was unaware that the paddles did not stop rotating when the mixer was turned off. BiLo had not given her an instruction manual. Had she read the instruction manual, she would have seen the following warning:


Plaintiffs' Concise Statement of Material Facts [ECF No. 58-2, p. 3, ¶ 2]

The Defendants have submitted an affidavit of William C. Schlieper [ECF No. 54-2], the Director of Product Design Policy for ITW FEG. Mr. Schlieper testified that " [c]ommercial mixers are intended to be used by workers who adhere to safe and sanitary work practices as set forth by the Federal Food & Drug Administration, whose standards prohibit bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods." Id. at ¶ 6. Mr. Schlieper testified that " [o]nce the mixer is turned off, there is a short wind-down time before the paddle comes to a complete stop. The wind-down time varies depending on how much and what type of food product is in the mixer bowl." Id. at ¶ 4. He also testified that the mixer's design " met all the safety standards set forth by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (" UL" ) and NSF International," the independent entities in the commercial food equipment industry charged with the duty to " evaluate,

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test, and certify product designs for safety and sanitation." Id. ...

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