They shredded his arm. Then we shredded their defenses.

Our client was a 51 year old worker at a paper plant who assisted a fellow worker in clearing an industrial shredder which was repeatedly jamming at his workplace.  After clearing pounds of paper out of the teeth of the device, he turned the machine on and off quickly to make sure that it was clear, and then attempted to screw its cover back in place.  He had no idea that the blades continued to spin after being turned off.

When the cover slipped, his arm was grabbed by the spinning blades and was shredded up to his elbow.

To his co-workers, who saw him running through the plant screaming holding his flayed arm,  it looked like he was fighting with a strange bird.

He was flown to the hospital, where doctors saved his life, but could not save his arm.

MALIS|LAW took the lead in the litigation, working with a team of lawyers. We repeated our partnership with Lawrence attorney Frederick Fairburn, this time joined by local attorney Robert Armano, a professor at the Massachusetts School of Law, to whom our client originally came.

We conducted investigation which revealed the poor design of the hatch of this industrial shredder, which brought workers’ arms dangerously close to sharp cutting blades without adequate protections or interlocks to prevent the machine from functioning with the hatch open.  Discovery disclosed that the manufacturer had literally stolen the 30 year old design of a competitor without incorporating the security features that the competitor added to later models, such as an electronic interlock connected to the door; magnets designed to hold the door shut while the shredder blades were rotating; and a hinged wide clamshell housing to prevent workers’ arms or bodies from being caught in pinch points.  The critical “smoking gun”, though, was in the manufacturer’s own marketing on the internet — the company’s site boasted that the machine was equipped with “important safety features” such as a “door interlock”.

Depositions of the manufacturer and installer, which specialized in equipment for paper plants, disclosed further problems.  The installer knew that the paper plant did not have sophisticated workers operating this machine, which was essentially intended to get rid of trash and recycle it.  Despite that, the installer provided the machine without adequate warnings or instructions.  Furthermore, the installer did a poor job of incorporating the shredder into the manufacturer’s existing air conveyor system, which was too undersized to adequately pull paper out of the machine after it had been shredded.  Worse, the installers altered the system by blocking part of the inlet of the shredder with a solid metal plate, cutting airflow through the shredder which, in turn, caused the shredder to jam.  Earlier emails from the installer had recommended use of a perforated plate, which would have restricted feeding of the machine without cutting airflow.

The shredder manufacturer had been sued many times, and in many courts, after injured parties lost eyes and limbs because of their defective machine.  They had never paid a substantial settlement.  As with the other cases, they blamed the installers and our client for the injury.  We knew better.  We sued both the installers and the manufacturer, claiming that all were collectively responsible for the product’s poor design and installation.

We were quickly dragged into a hailstorm of cross complaints and procedural motions, including a separate lawsuit between the plant where our client worked and the installer, where the installer claimed that the plant owners had offered to “lose” embarassing documents if they dropped their claim; indemnity claims between the manufacturer, installer, and the paper plant; and varying stories about how the accident occurred, some of which turned out to be outright lies by employees trying to protect their jobs.  The defendants’ ultimate response was that an uneducated paper plant maintenance worker who did not speak English should have known better than to help a co-worker fix a machine.  We countered with documentation showing that the manufacturer and installer had misrepresented critical facts about the product in their marketing, exposing them to multiple damages under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, G.L. c. 93A.

We hired a team of experts, including several mechanical engineers, hand surgeons, and vocational and economic experts, to prove that this new American citizen who, at the time of his accident, worked two jobs to support his children, had lost his arm, his livelihood, and his quality of life because of the poor design and breaches of safety warranties of the manufacturer, seller, and installer of the shredder.

At the end of the day our team of lawyers prevailed at a mediation in which the defendants offered $1.7 million — the largest amount paid for a lost arm in the Northeast – to settle his case.

The best part, other than seeing our client well compensated for a terrible injury, was “shredding” the manufacturer’s usually successful defenses.  Although the shredder manufacturer had escaped judgments for years in other lawsuits, this time they paid several hundred thousand dollars to avoid the risk of a trial.