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Seeley v. FKI Logistex

September 3, 2009

JOANN SEELEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FKI LOGISTEX, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David N. Hurd United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Joann Seeley ("plaintiff" or "Seeley") brings a products liability and negligence suit against defendant FKI Logistex ("FKI") as the manufacturer of the equipment from which she received her injuries. Upon removal by defendant, the suit commenced in federal court on April 11, 2007. Defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56. Plaintiff opposes. Oral arguments were heard on January 16, 2009, in Utica, New York. Decision was reserved.

II. FACTS

The following facts are set forth in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Joann Seeley began working at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center ("Wal-Mart facility" or "facility") in Sharon Springs, New York, in 2000. At the time of her accident, in 2006, plaintiff worked what is called utility. One of her responsibilities included placing empty boxes onto a conveyor, which would distribute the boxes to other workers who needed them for order filling. She received specialized training when she began working utility. Prior to her accident, Seeley knew of the safety implements and procedures relevant to the conveyor she used as utility. Of particular note were the emergency cord and pop out rollers.

The conveyor had an emergency cord running along certain areas. Workers pulled the cord if boxes jammed on the conveyor. Pulling the cord stopped the movement and allowed a worker to clear the jam. FKI designs for the conveyor required the emergency cord to be reachable from every pinch point, locations on the conveyor where objects could become trapped. If something became caught at a pinch point, pulling the emergency cord to stop the conveyor also stopped any extra force on the object caused by movement.

FKI also manufactured its conveyors to have pop out rollers at points where the conveyor changed from a belt portion to a roller portion. The pop out roller is supposed to occupy the first slot for a roller after the belt portion of the conveyor. Pop out and fixed rollers differ in appearance. Pop out rollers do not have a metal guard that would hold them in place. Pop out rollers manufactured by FKI have yellow clips on them, unlike fixed rollers. At the Wal-Mart facility, if a pop out roller popped, a worker would place it under the conveyor for a maintenance worker to replace.

On July 26, 2006, Seeley was placing bundles of cardboard boxes onto the conveyor. A piece of cardboard fell into the transition point between a belt portion and a roller portion of the conveyor. Plaintiff reached with her left hand to retrieve the cardboard, but her hand became caught between the belt and first roller of the conveyor. The first roller of the conveyor was a fixed roller. She tried to pull her hand out but could not. Realizing this, she found the closest emergency cord, to her right, along the belt portion of the conveyor, and reached out to pull it. She stretched both her arms and reached for the cord. After a minute of trying, she finally managed to pull the cord and stop the conveyor. She still could not free her hand and yelled for help. Two maintenance workers needed to use a hammer and crowbar to remove the first two rollers and extricate plaintiff's hand. Seeley suffered severe injuries to her hand.

Since plaintiff's accident, Wal-Mart has modified the emergency cord. Maintenance workers extended the length of the cord, so the cord terminates closer to the pinch point than it did at the time of Seeley's accident. Further, a pop out roller is in place as the first roller at the transition point where plaintiff's injury occurred.

III. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment must be granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions and affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2509-10 (1986). The moving party carries the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. FED. R. CIV. P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986). Facts, inferences therefrom, and ambiguities must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non-movant. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986).

When the moving party has met the burden, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. at 1356. At that point, the nonmoving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56; Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. at 2511; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. at 1356. To withstand a summary judgment motion, sufficient evidence must exist upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248-49, 106 S.Ct. at 2510; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. at 1356.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Design ...


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