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Josephs v. Harris Corp.

decided: May 13, 1982.



Before Adams and Sloviter, Circuit Judges, and Stern, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Sloviter



In this products liability action filed in federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, plaintiff Howard Jay Josephs appeals following a jury verdict in favor of the defendant, Harris Corporation. Josephs was injured while cleaning a printing press which was manufactured by Harris Corporation in 1963, and sold in a used condition by Harris to Josephs' employer, Pocono Press, Inc., in 1973. Josephs alleged that his injuries were caused by a defective design and by Harris' failure to adequately warn and instruct on the safe operation of the press. After a three-day trial, the jury found by special interrogatory that "the Harris Press (was not) defective at the time of its sale to Pocono Press." Accordingly, judgment was entered for the defendant and plaintiff appeals.

Plaintiff claims (1) that the court erred in granting defendant's in limine motion which precluded plaintiff from introducing any testimony relating to standards and publications promulgated and published subsequent to 1963, the year that defendant manufactured the press in issue, when in fact defendant resold the press to plaintiff's employer in 1973; (2) that the court erred in refusing to allow plaintiff redirect examination of his expert witness and cross-examination of defendant's witnesses with regard to standards, publications or textual material adopted or published subsequent to 1963; (3) that the court erred in excluding evidence of or reference to remedial measures undertaken and warnings issued by defendant subsequent to plaintiff's injury; and (4) that the court erred in denying plaintiff's motion to compel answers to interrogatories requesting information as to prior accidents involving the press which injured Josephs and as to similar Harris presses.



On the date of the accident, June 18, 1979, Josephs was employed for the summer by Pocono Press, Inc.*fn1 as a pressman's helper. He was nineteen years of age and had begun working at Pocono Press a few weeks earlier. As a pressman's helper, Josephs' duties included cleaning the printing press at the end of the day.

The press in question, Harris Model LUM, stood over seven feet tall and had five different control stations. At each control station there was a series of three buttons, positioned vertically. The top button was labeled "safe", and when pushed in the machine would not run. This button also had a lock out feature, i.e., it was surrounded by a ring which when rotated clockwise prevented the press from being operated from any control station. The middle button was labeled "jog" and when depressed the press ran forward; when released the press stopped by inertia. The third button was labeled "reverse" and operated in the same manner as the "jog" button except that the press ran in the opposite direction.

In order to clean the LUM press, it was necessary for someone to crawl under the press and wipe the cylinders. On June 18, 1979, Josephs was lying underneath the press wiping the second, or bottom cylinder, with a cleaning cloth and solvent. Only a small portion of the cylinder is exposed beneath the press. After cleaning the exposed portion, Josephs had to use the "jog" button to inch the cylinder around, thus exposing more of the cylinder's surface. The process of jogging and wiping would normally continue until the entire surface of the cylinder was cleaned.

The control box that is used while cleaning the cylinder is located underneath the press. Because of the way Josephs was positioned, he could not see the control buttons and the cylinder at the same time. He was using his left hand to push the "jog" button and his right hand to wipe the cylinder. Although Josephs cannot recall the actual accident, and there was no one watching him clean the cylinder, it appears that he was pushing the jog button to advance the cylinder when the cleaning rag in his right hand got caught in the cylinder. His hand was dragged in with the cleanup rag, causing the injury for which suit was brought, a crush amputation of the thumb and portions of the first three fingers.

In face of the jury's adverse verdict, Josephs must demonstrate that the court's evidentiary rulings and discovery rulings which he challenges were not only erroneous but were so prejudicial as to amount to reversible error. Fed.R.Civ.P. 61; Fed.R.Evid. 103(a).



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