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Schell v. AMF

filed: December 22, 1977.

ROBERT C. SCHELL AND LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFFS/APPELLANTS
v.
AMF, INCORPORATED, DEFENDANT/APPELLEE AND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF V. CAPITAL BAKERS, INC., APPELLEE AND THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 74-190).

Gibbons and Weis, Circuit Judges and Caleb M. Wright, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Weis

WEIS, Circuit Judge.

At issue in this appeal are the roles of court and jury in determining whether a manufacturer was liable under RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 402A for an alleged design defect. Plaintiff contends his injury was the result of inadequate protection from moving gears on a machine he was operating. The manufacturer's defense is that the design it utilized was adequate for normal use. After weighing the relevant considerations, we determine that the question should be decided by a jury.

Plaintiff Robert Schell was seriously injured when his arm became caught in the sprockets of a machine manufactured by the defendant AMF, Incorporated. He brought a diversity action in the district court alleging liability under Pennsylvania law adopting § 402A. The case was tried to a jury which was unable to agree upon a verdict. Thereafter, the district court entered judgment for the defendant pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b).

Plaintiff was employed by Capital Bakers, Inc. in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His usual duties were to feed baking pans into a machine called a Pan-O-Mat. On March 13, 1972, about 15 minutes before the accident occurred, he was called upon to operate the machine, a task apparently he had not performed previously.

The Pan-O-Mat is designed to receive roll-shaped pieces of dough from another machine and place them on baking pans. The Pan-O-Mat's chief component is a series of cups which are attached to a conveyor assembly. The cups receive the dough and then carry it upward. Occasionally pieces of dough not properly directed miss the cups and fall to the floor. In order to collect the falling dough, the Pan-O-Mat is equipped with an "excess tray" which slides beneath it on the floor.

The conveyor is driven by a series of chain and sprocket drives within the machine. Access to the drive mechanism is secured through a door on each side of the machine. The door bottom is approximately six inches above the floor and the excess tray fits into this space. When it is necessary to remove an accumulation of dough on the tray, usually it may be pulled out and reinserted without opening a door or shutting down the machine. The baking industry's sanitation standards require that the area behind the doors be accessible for cleaning, a procedure which Capital carried out at least every four hours.

One of the Pan-O-Mat operators' duties is to prevent undue accumulation of dough in the excess tray. When Schell began to operate the machine, he observed that an excessive amount of dough had piled up, so much in fact, it was necessary to open the door to remove the tray. With the assistance of another employee, he pulled the tray from underneath the machine. Before the tray could be removed, however, the other employee was called away and because it was too heavy for one man, Schell left it on the floor near the Pan-O-Mat. Since there was no replacement tray available, the misguided dough fell to the floor beneath the machine.

Schell left the area and returned within an estimated time of two to ten minutes. In the meantime, the machine continued to run with the door open and dough piled up on the floor near the door. Schell got down on his hands and knees in order to brush the dough away from the machine and put his right hand into the now accessible machinery area. Because he slipped, or for some other reason, Schell lost his balance and his arm became entangled in the mechanism. His arm was injured so severely that it had to be amputated.

At trial the plaintiff produced an expert who testified that the machine was defective because:

1. It lacked an interlock mechanism which would have caused the conveyor to stop whenever a door was opened.

2. There was no warning on the doors.

3. The doors could be opened easily and quickly without ...


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