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Wilson v. Sentry Ins.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

January 22, 2014

BILLIE JEAN WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SENTRY INSURANCE, Intervening Plaintiff,
v.
ENGEL CANADA, INC., and UNKNOWN DEFENDANTS, Defendants

Page 663

For Billie Jean Wilson, Plaintiff: Erik David Peterson, LEAD ATTORNEY, M. Austin Mehr, Mehr Fairbanks Trial Lawyers, PLLC, Lexington, KY.

For Sentry Insurance Company, Intervenor Plaintiff: Mark J. Hinkel, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jennifer Lacey Fiorella, Landrum & Shouse LLP - LEXINGTON, Lexington, KY.

For Engel Canada Inc., Defendant: Kenneth P. Abbarno, LEAD ATTORNEY, Reminger & Reminger Co., L.P.A. - CLEVELAND OH, Cleveland, OH; Shea W. Conley, Reminger & Reminger Co., LPA - LEXINGTON, Lexington, KY.

OPINION

Page 664

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Joseph M. Hood, Senior U.S. District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Engel Canada Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. [D.E. 60]. Plaintiff Billie Jean Wilson filed a Response [D.E. 65][1], and Defendant filed a Reply. [D.E. 62]. Sentry Insurance, an Intervening Plaintiff, did not respond to the motion. The time for briefing having expired, and the Court being otherwise sufficiently advised, this matter is now ripe for review.

I. Procedural Background

Plaintiff began employment with Molding Solutions in September 2007. [D.E. 61-2 at 6]. At the time of Plaintiff's injury, her employment required her to operate a horizontal injection molding machine. [D.E. 60-1 at 3; 65 at 2]. This machine, a Repro 2000 P 34 W, [D.E. 61-3 at 15], was manufactured by Defendant Engel Canada, Inc. in 1989. [D.E. 60-1 at 3; 65 at 2]. The machine is designed so that it can reach the temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit and generate up to 100 tons of pressure. [D.E. 61-6 at 35-36]. The machine, as manufactured by Engel, does not include a mold that shapes a final product. [D.E. 61-3 at 16] (" Q: Does Engel also produce the molds that you're talking about? A: No, it doesn't." ). Thus, it is the responsibility of the user to install a mold in the machine. [D.E. 61-4 at 10] (" I feel that Molding Solutions had some responsibility to -- for a number of things. Installing the mold is one of them." ).

On September 28, 2010, Plaintiff's supervisor David Beckett was operating the control panel of the machine, attempting to make adjustments to the operating process of the machine. [D.E. 65 at 6]. Beckett was making these adjustments while Plaintiff continued with production. [D.E. 61-2 at 56] (" And then David came in and we worked together. He tells me what he wants me to do. . . . And then he's doing all this work over here, which I don't know." ). After approximately an hour, [D.E. 61-2 at 57], and while Plaintiff's hand was in the machine, Beckett pressed a combination of buttons that caused the ejector plate on the machine to retract. [D.E. 65 at 6]. When the ejector plate retracted, it pinched Plaintiff's left hand and trapped her hand inside the machine. [D.E. 61-4 at 29]. Plaintiff was only able to remove her hand from the machine after fellow Molding Solutions employees opened the machine with crowbars. [D.E.

Page 665

61-2 at 57]. As a result, Plaintiff's hand was burned to the tendon [D.E. 61-2 at 64], and she continues to have trouble gripping with her left hand. [D.E. 61-2 at 64-66]. It is undisputed that when Plaintiff's injury occurred the machine was being operated in manual mode and the SPI safety override switch was in the " on" position. [D.E. 65 at 6].

Due to her injuries, Plaintiff filed suit in Fayette Circuit Court alleging claims based upon the products liability theories of manufacturing defect, defective design, failure to warn, and breach of express and implied warranties. [D.E. 1-1 at 2-4]. Defendant timely removed the action to this Court. [D.E. 1].

Prior to instituting this civil action, Plaintiff was awarded workers compensation benefits from Molding Solutions' insurance carrier, Sentry Insurance. [D.E. 10 at 1]. Pursuant to KRS 342.700, Sentry Insurance filed a Complaint as an Intervening Plaintiff seeking reimbursement for its expenses from Defendants. [D.E. 10].

II. Standard of Review

A motion for summary judgment may only be granted " if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). " On summary judgment the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts . . . must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962). " The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

III. Analysis

Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to the claims for manufacturing defect and defective design must be granted. Even assuming Defendant was negligent in the manufacture or design of the machine, the conduct of Molding Solutions, Plaintiff's employer, acts as a superseding cause of Plaintiff's injuries.[2]

The actions of Plaintiff's employer, Molding Solutions, act as a superseding cause, cutting off potential liability for Defendant. Even after the adoption of comparative negligence, Kentucky courts have continued to apply the superseding cause analysis to negligence actions. See, e.g., Pile v. City of Brandenburg, 215 S.W.3d 36, 42 (Ky. 2006) (finding that the doctrine of superseding cause had been " substantially diminished" by comparative negligence, but ultimately holding the tortious conduct of a third person did not qualify as a superseding cause); see also James v. Meow Media, Inc., 90 F.Supp.2d 798, 808 (W.D. Ky. 2000) (citing Exxon Co., U.S.A. v. Sofec, Inc., 517 U.S. 830, 837-38, 116 S.Ct. 1813, 135 L.Ed.2d 113 (1996)) (" The United States Supreme Court has held that the ...


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