Claims Of Man Who Lost Eye Proceed Against Toolmaker

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Dave Stafford for www.theindianalwyer.com

A man who lost an eye after a cut-off disc on a pneumatic grinder he was using disintegrated and struck him in the face may proceed with his claims against the toolmaker, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Paul Johnson was using a Campbell Hausfeld TL1120 grinder, an air-powered handheld tool designed to grind, polish and debur surfaces including metal. The tool included warnings for users to use eye protection and to ensure attachments are tightly secured and properly rated for minimum RPMs before using them with the device. Failure to do so could result in injury or death, the warnings said.

While the grinder was not specifically designed for cutting, Court of Appeals Judge Robert Altice wrote that its instructions referenced that potential use, stating, “Do not use a cut-off disc mandrel on this tool unless a safety guard is in place.”

Johnson installed a cut-off disc with a mandrel as he was cutting around a vehicle headlight housing. While he did not use a safety guard — which Altice noted was not supplied with the tool — he was an experience tool handler who wore prescription glasses with safety glass as he worked in a tight space.

Nevertheless, when the cut-off disc disintegrated, it struck Johnson in the face, broke his glasses and seriously injured his cheek and eye, which he later lost as a result. He brought this product-liability case in which the COA on Friday reversed Porter Superior Court’s partial grant of summary judgment in favor of Campbell Hausfeld.

The toolmaker argued on appeal it was entitled to summary judgment on all Johnson’s claims, while Johnson contended Campbell Hausfeld wasn’t entitled to summary judgment on his defective design claim as the trial court found, or on his failure to warn claim. The COA agreed with Johnson.

“Campbell Hausfeld is not entitled to summary judgment based on any of its asserted statutory defenses,” Altice wrote for the panel. “Moreover, the designated evidence establishes a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Campbell Hausfeld provided adequate warning concerning the use of the Grinder with a cut-off disc, especially where the operating instructions imply that the Grinder may be used as a cut-off tool. Finally, we conclude that Campbell Hausfeld has failed to establish its entitlement to summary judgment on the defective design claim. The trial court, therefore, improperly granted summary judgment on the defective design claim.”

FOOTNOTE: The case is Campbell Hausfeld/Scott Fetzer Company v. Paul Johnson, 64A03-1705-CT-984.

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