A delivery person injured by the blade of a disassembled meat slicer recently received over $1.5 million from a Pennsylvania jury. In Fuller v. Easton Healthcare Services Group, Plaintiff, a delivery person for a knife-sharpening and appliance service, was picking up a meat slicer that had been loaned to the Easton Health & Rehabilitation Center. When Plaintiff arrived to retrieve the loaner slicer, an employee of Healthcare Services Group loaded the disassembled slicer onto a cart and wheeled the cart to Plaintiff’s delivery van.
As a result of the slicer’s disassembly, the blade guard to the slicer had been removed and placed on a lower shelf of the cart, underneath the slicer itself. Subsequently, the employee lost his balance while attempting to load the slicer into Plaintiff’s delivery van, and in her effort to assist the employee, Plaintiff reached over top of the slicer and lacerated her right forearm, severing nine tendons, an artery, and two nerves. She underwent emergency surgery to reattach the severed nerves and tendons, as well as re-establish blood flow to the severed artery. Despite physical therapy, Plaintiff needed multiple surgeries to remove nerves from her ankle and implant them into her hand, an index finger amputation, and a fusion of her thumb.
Plaintiff sued Healthcare Services Group alleging that the removal of the blade guard from the slicer, the failure to reassemble the slicer, and the assumption that Plaintiff would notice that the slicer was not reassembled created an unsafe condition that could foreseeably cause harm. Healthcare Services Group countered that, because it was Plaintiff’s job to retrieve the slicer, defendant was not responsible for placing the blade guard on the slicer, and that Plaintiff’s failure to notice that the blade guard was missing rendered her contributorily negligent.
Ultimately, the jury found that Plaintiff was 13% liable and Healthcare Services Group was 87% liable. Thus, Plaintiff’s damages, which included medical costs, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and a loss of consortium claim by her husband, were only reduced from $1,868,987.25 to $1,627,318.91. As such, the jury obviously felt the defendant’s handling of the meat slicer was the issue, as opposed to plaintiff’s mishandling. This case present the danger of a defense strategy of placing all the blame on a likely sympathetic plaintiff. Thanks to Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.