years, Warner & Swasey-Ohio and its successors manufactured several "families" of lathes, including the saddle-type turret lathe. As a general rule, lathes within a given family share common components and characteristics. As previously mentioned, five models of saddle-type turret lathes were manufactured: the 1-A, 2-A, 3-A, 4-A and 5-A. The model 1-A is the smallest of these lathes; the model 5-A is the largest.
Warner & Swasey-Ohio characterized saddle-type turret lathes as "larger machines ideally suited for extra heavy duty jobs--particularly those requiring long, accurate cuts." (Plaintiffs' Ex. 16 at 3, 6).
The distinguishing characteristic of the saddle-type turret lathe is its movable saddle, affixed to which is the end-working hexagon turret. Each side of the turret houses a machine tool, which is used to fashion a cut on the bar of metal that is being lathed. Together, the saddle and turret are capable of traveling horizontally up to the entire length of the bedways of the lathe, depending upon the desired length of the cut. All saddle-type model lathes feature these (and other) components, though the dimensions of these components increase as the model number increases. For instance, the bedways on a model 4-A are larger than those on a model 2-A--which allows the model 4-A to make larger cuts. Absent this difference in the dimension of components, the basic design of all saddle-type turret lathes--including of the models 1-A and 3-A--is practically identical. The question, therefore, is whether the safety and size features of the models 1-A and 3-A are "the same or substantially similar."
The basic safety instructions for saddle-type turret lathes do not differ, regardless of which model an operator might use.
Moreover, in so far as the built-in safety features of the model 1-A and 3-A lathes are concerned, those features are essentially the same. Both models have slip clutches and slash shields.
Both models are designed to shield an operator from flying metal chips, and also require that a coolant be sprayed upon the cutting tool to cool and lubricate it. Other similarities in safety features exist as well.
The size of the model 1-A differs from the 3-A, as the 3-A is larger. Whereas the net standard weight of the model 1-A is 7,000 lbs., the net standard weight of the 3-A is 12,000 lbs. Naturally, the model 3-A also features larger dimensions than the 1-A. The length (with bar feed) of the model 3-A is just over eighteen feet, eight inches, for instance, while the length (with bar feed) of the 1-A is sixteen feet, five inches. Still, if defendant had wanted to limit is liability to only those products manufactured prior to its incorporation that were identical in size to a Current Product, it could have. It did not do so. Rather, defendant specifically assumed liability for those products manufactured by its predecessors that are the "same or substantially similar " to a current product.
By itself, "similar" means "related in appearance or nature; alike though not identical";
but "similar" is qualified by the word "substantially." As it is so qualified, the Court finds that the degree of likeness required by this phrase encompasses the likeness in size of the model 1-A and 3-A saddle-type turret lathes. Accordingly, plaintiffs have met their burden of proving that the model 1-A is "substantially similar" to the model 3-A in design, including safety features and size.
IV. Was the lathe "rebuilt"?
At the hearing, defendant raised as a defense the issue of whether the lathe in question was rebuilt. As was set forth in the purchase agreement, defendant does not assume liability for a product manufactured by its predecessors--even if it meets the criteria listed above--if that product is rebuilt. Based upon the evidence defendant presented at the hearing, which was limited to plaintiff's ambiguous deposition testimony on the matter, the Court cannot find definitively that the lathe at issue was rebuilt.
The lathe that plaintiff had been operating at the time of his injury, a model 1-A saddle-type turret lathe, is substantially the same in performance, capability, and function--as well as the same or substantially similar in design (including safety features and size)--to the model 3-A saddle-type turret lathe. Defendant's predecessors manufactured the model 3-A through the mid-1980's, which means that under the terms of the Purchase Agreement the model 3-A is a Current Product. According to the terms of defendant's Purchase Agreement, therefore, and absent a finding that the lathe that injured plaintiff was rebuilt, the Court finds that defendant may be held liable under a theory of successor liability.
Dated: July 17, 1997
Watertown, New York
Daniel Scanlon, Jr.
U.S. Magistrate Judge