Electrician may be liable for injury as a machine seller

On OCT. 30, 2000, JOSE Agurto, an employee of Baker Adhesive Co., was seriously injured when his shirt became caught on the machine he was operating. The machine drew his arm into its vat, crushing the arm and necessitating amputation.

Baker Adhesive bought the used machine from Mr. Valer Guhr in 1997, who got it in 1992 as payment from a company for which he had done work. The machine was manufactured by Special Machinery Co., which was defunct by the time Agurto was injured.

Agurto filed a product-liability lawsuit against Guhr, arguing that the machine was defective and that Guhr was liable as the seller of a defective product. Guhr asked the New Jersey trial court to grant judgment for him before trial, asserting that he was not a product seller within the meaning of the New Jersey Product Liability Act.

Based on his testimony, the court ruled for Guhr because he testified that he was an electrician who worked as an independent contractor, providing installation and maintenance services for Baker and similar companies. He stated that he had sold at least three machines to companies other than Baker, but he claimed that sales of machinery were a small part of his business.

Agurto appealed to the New Jersey Appellate Division. The court noted the Product Liability Act does not apply to "casual" or "occasional" sellers of goods —- people who do not sell goods in the regular course of their business.

According to the court, there were disputes concerning whether selling machinery was part of Guhr's business, and the trial court should not have issued summary judgment for Guhr. The court ruled that Agurto be allowed to depose Guhr again, and that Agurto was entitled to a trial to determine if Guhr was a product seller under the meaning of the state's Product Liability.

Agurto v. Guhr, 887 A.2d 159 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2005), Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Dec. 9, 2005.
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