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Rooney v. Federal Press Co.

decided: December 17, 1984.

DIANE ROONEY AND MICHAEL ROONEY, APPELLANTS
v.
FEDERAL PRESS COMPANY AND POSITIVE SAFETY MANUFACTURING CO. D/B/A POSSONS PUNCH PRESS CO., APPELLEES



Aldisert, Chief Judge, Hunter and Weis, Circuit Judges. Hunter, Circuit Judge, dissenting in part and concurring in part.

Author: Weis

Opinion OF THE COURT

WEIS, Circuit Judge.

In this products liability case, the district court concluded that the manufacturer of a power press was not liable for injury to an operator caused by a modification to the machine made by its owner more than a year after purchase. We find no error in the district court's holding and will affirm the judgment in favor of the defendant.

Plaintiff Diane Rooney was injured in January 1980 during the course of her employment, when the ram of a power press dropped onto her hand. She brought suit under Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts alleging that the press manufactured by defendant Federal Press Company and the safety device made by co-defendant Positive Safety Manufacturing Company were defective. The jury found for Positive Safety but was unable to reach a verdict on the plaintiff's claim against Federal. After briefing and argument, the district court granted Federal's motion for judgment on the record.

Federal sold the press to the plaintiff's employer in 1966. At that time, the machine was equipped with a safety device that required the operator to have both hands on palm buttons to activate the ram. Only when both buttons were pressed, would the ram descend and strike material placed on the lower die. Because the buttons were located a distance from the point of contact, the operator's hands were away from the area where the ram dropped.

Federal also manufactured foot pedals which could be used to activate a press. The plaintiff's employer, however, did not purchase one of these pedals from Federal and did not advise that company of an intention to install that device. More than a year after purchase, the plaintiff's employer changed the use to which the press had been put and added a foot pedal switch.*fn1 The electrical wiring was modified so that either the foot pedal or the hand buttons could be used to operate the ram. Use of the foot pedal freed the operator's hands from their position of safety on the buttons, creating the danger of injury from the descending ram.

Recognizing the risk to the operators, the employer installed a "pull back" safety device that it had purchased from defendant Postive Safety in 1942 and that had been used on another power press since that time. The pull back includes glove-type bands which fit around the wrist and thumbs of the operator. These bands are connected mechanically to the ram. When the ram descends, the operator's hands are pulled away from the point of contact with the lower die. When adjusted correctly, the pull back will move the operator's hands seven to fourteen inches. If improperly adjusted, however, the pull back will allow the operator's hands to remain within the danger zone under the ram.

On the day of the accident, the plaintiff's supervisor assigned her to work on the press. Although she had operated power presses before, this was the first time she had used a pull back device. The supervisor instructed plaintiff on the use of the press and showed her how to adjust and wear the pull back.

The morning passed uneventfully, but, when plaintiff returned to work after lunch, her hand was injured by the descending ram. Plaintiff testified that she recalled no details of the accident other than her hand being on the lower die. She had been using the pull back device, but the record does not establish whether it was properly adjusted.

The jury exonerated Positive Safety but was unable to agree on a verdict as to Federal.*fn2 After briefing and argument, the district court entered judgment in favor of Federal, concluding that there was no evidence that would allow the jurors to find against it. The court held that when the press left Federal's control, it had an adequate safety feature of two hand palm buttons and a sufficient safety warning. Thus, the machine "did not lack any element necessary to make it safe for its intended use and did not possess any feature that rendered it unsafe for the intended use."

On appeal, plaintiffs contend that Federal should have foreseen that a foot pedal would be used and consequently should have provided an appropriate safety device. They also argue that defendant failed to provide an adequate warning. Plaintiffs aver that both of these issues should be resolved by a jury and not the court.

Federal argues that since the danger was obvious and known to plaintiff, no further warning was necessary. It further contends that the press when delivered was properly equipped for its specific and intended use.

The parties agree that in this diversity action the law of Pennsylvania controls, more particularly, Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, as modified by Azzarello v. Black Brothers Co., Inc., 480 Pa. 547, 391 A.2d 1020 (1978). As we have explained in an ever lengthening series of cases, a manufacturer has an obligation to make its products safe for their intended use. See, e.g, Hammond v. International Harvester Co., 691 F.2d 646 (3d Cir. 1982); ...


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