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DeJesus v. Knight Industries & Associates, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

July 24, 2013

HAROLD DEJESUS and MARIA T. DEJESUS
v.
KNIGHT INDUSTRIES & ASSOCIATES, INC.

MEMORANDUM

MARY A. McLAUGHLIN, J.

Harold DeJesus (“DeJesus”) and his wife, Maria DeJesus, bring this civil action against Knight Industries & Associates, Inc. (“Knight”). DeJesus is a former employee of a Harley Davidson factory who was injured when a lift table manufactured by Knight knocked over a chain rack onto his leg. He claims that the lift table was defectively designed, and brings this suit under both strict products liability and negligence causes of action. Ms. DeJesus brings a claim of loss of consortium. The defendant has moved to exclude the testimony of the plaintiffs’ sole expert witness under Fed.R.Evid. 702 and for summary judgment. The Court will grant both motions.

I. The Summary Judgment Record

A. The Accident

DeJesus was employed at a Harley Davidson factory in York, PA. He was a tool and die maker whose main responsibility was to repair fixtures that held motorcycle parts in place as the parts were manufactured. Ex. 1 to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Transcript of Deposition of Harold DeJesus (“DeJesus Dep.”) 51:1-52:8.

On the night of December 3, 2008, DeJesus was assigned to work in the area of the factory where heat shields were manufactured. Towards the end of DeJesus’ shift, a coworker named Joey Gonzalez asked DeJesus to inspect a fixture in a different area of the factory, referred to as the assembly line area. Id. 66:18-21, 66:24-68:2. During this conversation, DeJesus was standing with his back towards a nearby chain rack. Id. 86:14-24; Ex. 2 to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Transcript of Deposition of James Walker (“Walker Dep.”) 25:19-26:14.

The chain rack was a cart on which several motorcycle chains hung. The cart had wheels, and was considered by some Harley employees to be unstable and top-heavy. At the time of the accident, it was being used by a Harley employee named Jody Black (“Black”). Ex. 13 to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Statement of Jody Black, 1/04/12 (“Black Statement”) 6:5-6, 13:10-21; Walker Dep. 47:14-22.

Black was responsible for wrapping each motorcycle chain around a clutch, another part of the motorcycle. The clutches were themselves wrapped in plastic and cardboard, and were stacked on a lift table. Ex. 3 to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Transcript of Deposition of Jody Black (“Black Dep.”) 16:5-15, 19:14-21, 62:20-63:5.

Black had placed the chain rack next to the lift table so that she did not have to carry the heavy motorcycle chains a long way. The clutches were placed on the lift table so that Black did not have to bend over each time she retrieved a new clutch. The lift table allowed her to position the clutches at her desired height, about waist high. Black Statement 7:12-22; Black Dep. 31:10-13; Black Statement 10:23-28.

Black was aware that DeJesus was standing near the chain rack. Nonetheless, she stepped on the foot pedal of the lift table in order to raise it. As Black elevated the lift table, a piece of the cardboard that was wrapped around a clutch contacted the chain rack. This caused the chain rack to fall onto the leg of DeJesus. Black Dep. 32:5-13, 31:10-13, 30:15-31:6, 35:23-36:6.

DeJesus experienced such intense pain that he lost consciousness. He was taken to the hospital, where a metal rod was inserted into his leg and skin grafts were taken from his thigh to mend the wound in his lower leg. He remained in the hospital for 19 days, where he continued to experience intense pain. DeJesus Dep. 94:19-95:16, 99:13-22, 101:14-21.

After returning home, DeJesus went to rehab for six months. He still cannot walk for more than ten minutes at a time, and he never returned to work. After exhibiting symptoms of PTSD stemming from the accident, DeJesus began seeing a psychologist. A doctor told him he may experience pain for the rest of his life. DeJesus Dep. 106:10-12, 126:6-8, 127:6-7, 134:3-14, 128:4-10.

B. The Lift Table

The lift table in question was manufactured by Knight. It was the only lift table in the assembly line area of the Harley Davidson factory at the time of the incident. The lift table did not have any audio or visual signals to alert people nearby that it was in use. Ex. 8 to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Transcript of Deposition of James Zaguroli (“Zaguroli Dep.”) 114:17-23, 93:1-5; Black Dep. 49:4-8.

Knight provided a manual with every lift table it sold providing instructions for the table’s use. Zaguroli Dep. 79:16-21. The manual includes the following relevant safety warnings:

No. 6. All loads should be centered on the table top before lifting;
No. 7. Prior to operating the table, ensure that all personnel on or near the table are aware of its imminent operation and that no person will be in harm’s way during the use of the unit; No. 8. Ensure that objects are clear of the area beneath the table and immediately surrounding the perimeter of the table while it is in use.

Ex. 11 to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Owner’s Manual (“Manual”), Bates Stamp p. 55. Black had not read the manual before using the lift table. Black Dep. 35:12-14.

At the time of their shipment, Knight placed warning stickers on the surface of every lift table that was purchased. One of those stickers read, “To avoid bodily injury, stand clear while lift table is moving.” Black did not notice any stickers on the lift table before she began using it. Zaguroli Dep. 79:22-80:6; Ex. 12 to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Warning Stickers, Bates Stamp p. 71; Black Dep. 35:15-19.

C. The Plaintiffs’ Expert Report

The plaintiffs have offered as expert testimony the report of Dr. Kevin Rider. In preparing his report, Dr. Rider inspected a Knight lift table on February 22, 2012, at a factory owned by a company named Syncreon.[1] Exhibit 1 to Defendant’s Motion to Exclude Testimony, Transcript of Deposition of Dr. Kevin Rider (“Rider Dep.”) 37:24-38:1.

Based on his inspection, his review of the record, and his own expertise, Dr. Rider concluded that the lift table that injured DeJesus was defectively designed. Rider Report, pp. 1-2, 11. In explaining what led him to this conclusion, Dr. Rider describes a three-step safety hierarchy which he claims is well-established in the industry. The hierarchy encourages manufacturers to design safe products, first by eliminating any hazards associated with the product by designing them out of the product, second by ...


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