July 18, 2001
SHERRY MARSHALL, F.K.A. SHERRY HARRINGTON, PLAINTIFF,
SHELDAHL, INC.; SCHJELDAHL CORPORATION; GLOUCESTER ENGINEERING CO., INC.; AND BATTENFELD COMPANY A.K.A. GLOUCESTER ENGINEERING COMPANY, INC., DEFENDANTS. SHELDAHL, INC. AND SCHJELDAHL CORPORATION, CROSS-CLAIMANTS, V. GLOUCESTER ENGINEERING CO., INC. AND BATTENFELD COMPANY A.K.A. GLOUCESTER ENGINEERING COMPANY, INC., CROSS-DEFENDANTS. SHELDAHL, INC. AND SCHJELDAHL CORPORATION, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF, V. ASTRO-VALCO, INC. A.K.A. PENNECO PACKAGING-AVI, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT. ASTRO-VALCOUR, INC. A.K.A. PENNECO PACKAGING-AVI, CROSS-CLAIMANT, V. SHELDAHL, INC., SCHJELDAHL CORPORATION, GLOUCESTER ENGINEERING CO., INC., AND BATTENFELD COMPANY A.K.A. GLOUCESTER ENGINEERING COMPANY, INC., CROSS-DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lawrence E. Kahn, United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM — DECISION AND ORDER
Presently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment by
defendants Sheldahl, Inc. and Schjeldahl ("Sheldahl Defendants"). For
the following reasons this motion is GRANTED.
On November 28, 1994, Plaintiff sustained serious injuries to her left
hand while operating a "bubble out bag machine" at her place of
employment. The machine, owned by her employer and third party defendant
Astro-Valcour, Inc., was manufactured by defendant Schjeldahl Corporation
in April of 1964. The machine is designed to manufacture plastic bags
using polyethylene film or tubing that is supplied by a continuous
rolling mechanism. When operating properly, the supply rolls feed the
machine on one end and discharge finished bags at the other end.
On the date in question, Plaintiff was operating the machine but
briefly stopped it in order to adjust the size of bags being produced.
After splicing a new roll of polyethylene material to the roll currently
in the machine, she restarted it. As the material began to pass through
the feeder end of the machine, Plaintiff noticed that it began to tear
apart. Without turning the machine off, she walked back to its rear and
attempted to reattach the moving material as it entered the machine by
grasping hold of it. As she did so, her left hand
was drawn between the
machine's rollers, resulting in injury to, and eventual amputation of,
her index finger.*fn1
She commenced the instant suit in 1997, alleging four causes of action
against the machine's manufacturers, including negligent manufacture,
defective design, failure to warn, and breach of warranty. In their
answer, Sheldahl Defendants brought a cross-claim against Gloucester
Engineering Co., Inc., asserting product liability, breach of warranty,
negligence, breach of contract, and a right to indemnification. Sheldahl
Defendants also filed a third party complaint against Plaintiff's
employer, alleging negligent training and failure to instruct Plaintiff
as to how to properly operate the machine. Sheldahl Defendants have now
moved for summary judgment, in part, on the grounds that the machine's
design was not defective and that the alleged defects were open and
obvious. The Court now addresses this motion.*fn2
A. Standard of Review for Summary Judgment
The standard for summary judgment is well-established. Summary judgment
is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if
any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(c). A material fact is genuinely disputed only if, based on
that fact, a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving
party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). On
a motion for summary judgment, all evidence must be viewed and all
inferences must be drawn in a light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. See City of Yonkers v. Otis Elevator Co., 844 F.2d 42, 45 (2d
The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of
"informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and
identifying the matter "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
323 (1986). Upon the movant's satisfying that burden, the onus then
shifts to the non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine
issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The
non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), but "must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial."
First Nat'l Bank of Az. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288 (1968).
B. Negligence and Strict Product Liability Claims Based Upon Design
Under New York's strict product liability law, a manufacturer is liable
to an injured party if:
(1) the product is "defective" because it is not
reasonably safe as marketed; (2) the product was used
for a normal purpose; (3) the defect was a substantial
factor in causing the plaintiff's injuries; (4) the
plaintiff by the exercise of reasonable care would not
have discovered the defect and apprehended its
injury; and (5) the plaintiff would not have otherwise
avoided the injury by the exercise of ordinary care.
Urena v. Biro Mfg. Co., 114 F.3d 359, 363 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Fane
v. Zimmer, Inc., 927 F.2d 124, 128 (2d Cir. 1997) (citing Wolfgruber v.
Upjohn Co., 72 A.D.2d 59, 62 (4th Dep't 1979), aff'd 52 N.Y.2d 768
(1980))). When an injured party asserts that a design defect caused the
injury, the focus of the Court's inquiry is on whether the product, as
designed, was reasonably safe or presented an unreasonable risk of harm
to the user. See Voss v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co., 59 N.Y.2d 102, 107
(1983). Specifically, the standard is whether, "if the design defect
were known at the time of manufacture, a reasonable person would conclude
that the utility of the product did not outweigh the risk inherent in
marketing a product designed in that manner." Id. at 108. Thus,
Plaintiff has the burden of "presenting evidence that the product, as
designed, presented a substantial likelihood of harm and feasibly could
have been designed more safely." ...
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