This is a personal injury action. Plaintiff, Stanley Olencki, was severely burned while working for the Radio Corporation of America ("RCA") at one of its manufacturing facilities. He was operating a photomask coater-developer machine when a glass bottle of developer fell from a storage rack above the machine, broke, and the developer caught fire. Plaintiff brought suit against three defendants: GCA Corp. ("GCA") which manufactured and sold the machine to RCA; Mead Technologies, Inc. ("Mead") which sold the developer to RCA, and Fisher Scientific Co. ("Fisher") which supplied a component of the developer to Mead. Plaintiff alleges that each defendant is strictly liable for his injuries as well as negligent in failing to warn RCA employees of the dangers involved in the use of the machine and developer. RCA is not a party to this action pursuant to the applicable provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 et seq.
This is the return day of a motion in limine brought by plaintiff to preclude defendants from presenting evidence or argument to the jury relating to the alleged negligence of RCA. The motion raises the issue of whether the related defenses of "sophisticated user" and superseding cause are available to meet plaintiff's negligence claims.
As manufactured and sold by GCA, the bottles of developer used in the operation of the machine were kept in a cabinet which was part of the machine. After RCA purchased the machine from GCA, RCA changed the location of the bottles placing them above the machine on a storage rack which RCA attached to the machine. RCA also modified the machine by the addition of an infrared lamp used to reduce problems due to high humidity. The lamp, which was freestanding, was located
approximately 30 inches below the bottle of developer and 14 inches to the side.
On the day Olencki was injured, he had been working in the area of the machine for approximately 15 minutes before the accident. He had started the developing process and had turned on the lamp when he noticed that a bottle of developer was almost empty. He removed the bottle from the rack, replaced it with a full bottle, and was in the process of clearing air bubbles from the line from the new bottle to the machine when the bottle fell from the rack, broke, and the infrared lamp ignited the developer. Olencki was severely burned by the resulting fire.
The developer sold to RCA by defendant, Mead, consisted of methyl ethyl ketone and ethanol, a highly flammable solution. Mead had purchased the methyl ethyl ketone from defendant Fisher who supplied it in glass bottles. Mead mixed the methyl ethyl ketone with ethanol and rebottled the developer in the same glass bottles in which Mead had purchased the methyl ethyl ketone from defendant Fisher.
Plaintiff alleges that the machine sold by GCA to RCA was defective in design because it did not provide a means for safely storing the chemical developer which GCA allegedly knew was highly flammable and would be used by RCA in the operation of the machine. In addition, plaintiff charges GCA with negligence on the grounds that its service technicians visited the RCA plant several times to repair the machine, that they observed or should have observed the various modifications made to the machine "and did not advise of any corrective actions, although they knew or should have been aware of the dangers."
Plaintiff alleges that defendant Mead manufactured, distributed and sold the developer, and that it was defective because it was improperly labelled, had improper warnings and that it was packaged in defective containers. In addition, plaintiff alleges
that Mead was "negligent in the labelling and packaging of the developer."
Finally, plaintiff alleges that the container in which Fisher sold Mead the methyl ethyl ketone contained the same design defects as are alleged against defendant Mead. Plaintiff also alleges that Fisher "was negligent in the manufacture and ...