Trial to determine applicability of contactor defense

Trial to determine applicability of contactor defense

On May 17, 2000, Gary Elmore was seriously injured when his arm became entangled in a conveyor system at a processing facility for the U.S. Postal Service in Illinois. The accident happened when Elmore's hand slipped into the conveyor system when he was r

On May 17, 2000, Gary Elmore was seriously injured when his arm became entangled in a conveyor system at a processing facility for the U.S. Postal Service in Illinois. The accident happened when Elmore's hand slipped into the conveyor system when he was reattaching a safety screen after retrieving fallen mail. The conveyor system was built by Dearborn Midwest Conveyor Co., which used electrical controls built by Control Logic Inc.

Elmore filed a lawsuit in federal court in Illinois against Dearborn, Control Logic, and others under theories of strict liability and negligence, asserting the conveyor was dangerous and defective. Before trial, both Dearborn and Control Logic asked the trial court to grant judgment for them, arguing they were protected by the "government-contractor" defense. The government-contractor defense shields a contractor from liability for design defects where the contractor builds equipment that conforms to the government's specifications.

The court held that Elmore was entitled to take his claims to trial. The court noted the specifications provided by the postal service stated that the conveyor system had to conform to any OSHA-safety requirements that were more rigorous than the safety mechanisms described in the specs. Elmore's expert witness, a mechanical engineer, said the conveyor violated OSHA guidelines because the machine did not have a needed warning label making the safety screens a hazard, and because the emergency-stop button was too far from the nip point. Based on this, the court concluded that Elmore had presented a factual question as to whether the conveyor and its electrical controls complied with the postal-service's specifications.

Elmore v. Rockwell Automation, 306 F.Supp.2d 751 (N.D.Ill. 2004), U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Jan. 30, 2004.

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