Supplier may have contributed to "sophisticated-user's" negligence

June 1, 2004
When Lawrence Gray worked at Smith Foundry from 1951 to 1998, he was exposed to dust from silica sand used for casting. After developing silicosis, he filed a lawsuit against companies that manufactured and sold sand to his employer, charging them with fa

When Lawrence Gray worked at Smith Foundry from 1951 to 1998, he was exposed to dust from silica sand used for casting. After developing silicosis, he filed a lawsuit against companies that manufactured and sold sand to his employer, charging them with failing to warn of the dangers of inhaling silica. One of these companies was Badger Mining Corp.

Badger argued it had no duty to warn of the dangers of inhaling silica, because Gray's employer was a "sophisticated user" of silica sand and was in the best position to warn and protect its employees.

The Minnesota trial court ruled for Gray. Badger appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which ruled the sophisticated-user doctrine relieved Badger of a duty to warn Gray. According to the appellate court, Smith Foundry knew, or should have known, of the dangers of inhaling silica and was in a reasonable position to warn and protect its employees.

Gray appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated his lawsuit. Gray alleged that Badger knew the conventional, disposable respirators that Smith Foundry provided its employees were ineffective to protect workers from inhaling tiny silica particles, but did not inform Smith that it should use high-efficiency respirators. Based on this, the court concluded that Grey was entitled to a jury trial to determine whether Badger's warnings to Smith Foundry were adequate, and whether the company had violated any duty it owed to Gray.

Gray v. Badger Mining Corp., 676 N.W.2d 268 (Sup.Ct.Minn. 2004), Supreme Court of Minnesota, Mar. 18, 2004.

Manufacturer not liable for modification

On May 27, 1998, while working at a construction site in Clinton, Iowa, Marc Seibel was using an elevated platform, called a scissors lift, to remove a sign from in front of a building. Someone inadvertently activated the lift's controls, but because the emergency-stop button, or kill switch, had been removed several months earlier, the lift could not be deactivated.

The lift fell over and Seibel was seriously injured. He sued the manufacturer of the lift, JLG Industries Inc., asserting the lift was unreasonably dangerous and defective, and the company had been negligent in designing and manufacturing it. The federal trial court granted judgment for JLG before trial, arguing Seibel had no claim against the manufacturer because the lift had been substantially altered after it left JLG.

Seibel appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and lost again. That court concluded Seibel had not made his case against JLG over its design and manufacture of the lift because he failed to show that the lift reached Seibel in substantially the same condition as it was when it was made.

Seibel v. JLG Industries Inc., 362 F.2d 480 (8th Cir. 2004), U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, Apr. 1, 2004.

Medical problems not result of previous accident

On Jan. 27, 2000, Harold Rudolph — a welder for Spudnik Equipment, an Idaho company — strained his left shoulder and arm while lifting a conveyor piece from a jig. He saw a surgeon, Dr. Lee, who diagnosed a diffuse muscle strain to the left upper extremity and restricted Rudolph to light duty for two weeks. On March 1, 2000, Rudolph returned to the doctor who continued the work restrictions for two more weeks.

Sometime later in March, Rudolph returned to mild duty. When Rudolph saw Dr. Lee again in April 2000, the doctor noted steady improvement and said Rudolph's pain had settled into his left elbow, which he diagnosed as "tennis elbow" although unrelated to tennis. Rudolph returned to his regular work in May 2000 with no restrictions. In September 2000 Dr. Lee wrote a final note in Rudolph's chart stating he was back to his normal welding job and his tennis elbow was controlled through medication and an elbow sleeve. Spudnik's workers'-compensation insurer paid the cost of Rudolph's medical treatments.

In October 2000, Rudolph left Spudnik and took a job in Boise, Idaho, and then moved to Clovis, Calif. In March 2001, Rudolph complained of shoulder pain to a doctor in California. Rudolph then saw an orthopedist who diagnosed tendonitis, arthritis, and other problems and recommended surgery on Rudolph's left shoulder and elbow.

Rudolph said his continuing problems were related to his January 2000 injury at Spudnik and sought to have the cost of the surgeries covered by Spudnik's workers'comp insurer. The insurer's doctors reviewed Rudolph's file and concluded his current complaints were not related to his old injury, but were due to age, arthritis, and current activities.

The insurer refused to pay for the surgeries and further treatment. The Idaho Industrial Commission sided with the insurer, deciding Rudolph did not meet the burden of proving that his current complaints and recommended surgeries were related to his accident at Spudnik.

Rudolph appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, which said, although there was some evidence supporting Rudolph's claims, the Industrial Commission's findings against him were supported by substantial and competent evidence and had to be upheld.

Rudolph v. Spudnik Equipment, 86 P.3d 490 (Sup.Ct. Idaho 2004), Supreme Court of Idaho, Feb. 2, 2004.

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