Maker of nondefective component not liable for machine accident

Maker of nondefective component not liable for machine accident

Shannon Henry worked at aTexas-based Alcoa plant that processes raw aluminum into roll form and then paints it. Scrap aluminum produced by the process is taped onto an electrically powered scrap winder. Alcoa designed and assembled a control panel and wir

Shannon Henry worked at aTexas-based Alcoa plant that processes raw aluminum into roll form and then paints it. Scrap aluminum produced by the process is taped onto an electrically powered scrap winder. Alcoa designed and assembled a control panel and wired it to an inverter to regulate power to the scrap winder. The inverter, made by Toshiba International Corp. is for industrial applications where speed regulation of moving parts is required.

On Sept. 14, 1998, Henry, who was running the paint line at Alcoa, went to the scrap winder to begin recycling scrap aluminum. He asked a coworker to start the winder in the jog mode, which ran the motor at a slow speed. The co-worker pushed the start button, but the winder started at full speed in the run mode. Startled, Henry backed away. His pants caught on the hydraulic lines and he fell on his back, injuring himself.

Henry filed a product liability suit against Toshiba, claiming the inverter was defective. After a Texas trial jury awarded him $430,610 in damages, Toshiba appealed to the Texas Court of Appeals. That court asserted a faulty switch on the control panel was the cause of Henry's accident and the inverter was not defective.

Under Texas law, a manufacturer of a component that is not defective should not be held liable when the component is integrated into a product alleged to be defective. The court, noting that at trial the Toshiba inverter was determined not to be defective, stated:

"It is clear the Toshiba inverter sold to Alcoa did not contain a manufacturing defect. The alleged defect is a result of the integration of the inverter into the Alcoa scrap-winding system. Accordingly, Toshiba can only be held liable for a design or marketing defect if it 'substantially participated' in the integration of the inverter into the design of the scrap-winder system." Based on the evidence presented, the appellate court concluded Toshiba did not substantially participate in integrating its inverter into the scrap winder, and so could not be held liable for Henry's injury. Since Alcoa was in total control of the design of the control panel, Toshiba played no part in the design of the scrap winder and the control panel.

Toshiba International Corp. v. Henry, 152 S.W.3d 774 (Tex.App. 2004), Court of Appeals of Texas, Dec. 9, 2004.
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