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GARNSEY v. MORBARK INDUS.

July 11, 1997

MICHAEL GARNSEY and GEORGIA GARNSEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
MORBARK INDUSTRIES, INC. and MORBARK FORESTRY, INC., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCAVOY

 Plaintiffs Michael and Georgia Garnsey bring this product liability action pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332. Defendants now move for summary judgment.

 I. BACKGROUND

 A. Facts

 On May 23, 1994, plaintiff Michael Garnsey ("plaintiff") was injured while using a Morbark Model 22 chipper in the course of his employment with Ava Wood Products. (Pl. Aff. P 2; Def. 7.1(f) Stmt. PP 1-2). Prior to the accident, plaintiff had been operating the chipper almost every day for approximately three years. (Pl. Aff. P 5).

 On the day of the accident, plaintiff shut off the motor of the chipper after he completed a chipping task. (Id. P 10). After shutting off the motor, plaintiff waited several minutes before inserting his hand inside the chipper to check the tension of the belt. (Id. P 11). The belt was still moving when plaintiff checked it, however, and it drew his fingers along the belt towards the pulley. (Id. P 12). Plaintiff's left hand became caught between the belt and a pulley, and as a result two of plaintiff's fingers on his left hand were partially severed. (Pl. Dep. at 139).

 B. Procedural History

 Plaintiff filed the present action on November 30, 1995. Plaintiff alleges that the chipper was defectively designed in that the manufacturer could have installed: (1) a small guard over the area of the nip point where the plaintiff was injured; (2) a friction brake or engine brake to stop the movement of the belt and pulley for the hydraulic pump in a matter of seconds, rather than the ten minutes that it usually took for the belt and pulley to stop after the clutch was disengaged; (3) a visual warning to alert the operator that the belt and pulley for the hydraulic pump were still moving; (4) a hinged guard which when opened would have exposed the belt and pulley to adequate light to allow the operator to determine whether the belt and pulley had stopped before attempting to check the tension of the belt; or (5) a mechanical or electrical indicator on the side of the chipper where plaintiff was injured to indicate whether the belts and pulleys were still moving.

 Plaintiff also alleges that the chipper lacked adequate warnings in that nothing in the Operator's Manual or on the chipper itself advised the operator: (1) not to perform any maintenance or inspection for a stated period of time after the engine had been turned off and the clutch disengaged, when the belts or pulleys would continue to be running; (2) to insure that the belts and pulleys had stopped before attempting to perform maintenance or inspection of the belts or pulleys; (3) how to check whether the belts and pulleys had stopped; (4) of the danger of the nip point between the infeeding belt and the pulley; and (5) to walk around to the other side of the chipper and determine if the cutter wheel was still turning before testing the tension on the belt for the hydraulic pump.

 Defendants filed the present motion for summary judgment on April 4, 1997. In support of their motion, defendants point to the following facts that they allege are undisputed: (1) the belt and pulley on which plaintiff was injured was covered by an orange metal shroud or guard; (2) prior to and at the time of the accident, plaintiff knew that the machine was inherently dangerous; (3) prior to and at the time of the accident, plaintiff knew that various parts of the wood chipper would continue to run for approximately ten minutes after the machine was shut off; (4) prior to and at the time of the accident, plaintiff knew that one of the parts that continued to run was the belt on which he caught his hand; (5) prior to checking the tension belt, plaintiff did not look under the guard to determine if it was still moving; (6) prior to checking the tension on the belt, plaintiff did not look at another belt visible on the other side of the machine to determine if it was still moving; (7) a gauge which would have told plaintiff whether any parts were still moving was not working and had not been working for about three years prior to the accident. Defendants thus argue that after three years of working on this particular wood chipper without incident, and having acquired full knowledge of the dangers attendant upon attempting maintenance while the chipper parts were still in motion, plaintiff acted with gross carelessness in causing his own injuries.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. The Standard for Summary Judgment

 Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), if there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law . . . where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1029, 95 L. Ed. 2d 527, 107 S. Ct. 1955 (1987). The burden to demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists falls solely on the moving party, Heyman v. Commerce and Indus. Ins. Co, 524 F.2d 1317 (2d Cir. 1975), and the trial court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of that party against whom summary judgment is sought. Ramseur v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 865 F.2d 460, 465 (2d Cir. 1989); Eastway Constr. Corp. v. City of New York, 762 F.2d 243, 249 (2d Cir. 1985), cert. denied 484 U.S. 918, 98 L. Ed. 2d 226, 108 S. Ct. 269 (1987).

 The non-moving party may defeat the summary judgment motion by producing sufficient specific facts to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). An issue of material fact is genuine "if evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). When reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence, then summary judgment is proper. Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849, 116 L. Ed. 2d 117, 112 S. Ct. 152 (1991). However, the motion will not be defeated by a non-movant who raises merely a "metaphysical doubt" concerning the facts or who ...


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