Work Robot Blamed for Michigan Woman’s Death

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) – A journeyman maintenance technician died when a malfunctioning robot crushed her head as she performed machinery adjustments, her husband claims in a federal lawsuit.

Wanda Holbrook worked for nonparty Ventra Ionia LLC in Ionia, Mich., which performed stamping, molding and related services for chrome-plated plastics, bumpers and trailer hitches, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in Grand Rapids federal court.

On July 7, 2015, Holbrook was inspecting machinery in an area where trailer-hitch components were assembled when tragedy struck.

“Wanda was working in either section 140 or 150 within the ‘100’ cell, when a robot from section 130 took Wanda by surprise, entering the section she was working in. Upon entering the section, the robot hit and crushed Wanda’s head between a hitch assembly it was attempting to place in the fixture of section 140, and a hitch assembly that was already in the fixture,” the lawsuit states.

Holbrook was found by co-workers and pronounced dead at the scene from severe head trauma.

The lawsuit, filed by Holbrook’s husband William, blames defendants Prodomax Automation Canada, Flex-N-Gate LLC, FANUC America Corp., Nachi Robotic Systems Inc. and Lincoln Electric Company for Holbrook’s death.

According to the complaint, FANUC, Nachi and Lincoln made the robots while Flex-N-Gate and Prodomax helped with installation and servicing.

“The robot from section 130 should have never entered section 140, and should have never attempted to load a hitch assembly within a fixture that was already loaded with a hitch assembly,” the complaint states. “A failure of one or more of defendants’ safety systems or devices had taken place, causing Wanda’s death.”

The lawsuit also says the automation system in the work area did not adhere to numerous safety regulations, which helped cause the incident. Safety doors that were installed specifically to prevent robot movement were not effective, Holbrook’s widower claims.

Holbrook’s estate seeks an unspecified amount of damages for claims of wrongful death and product liability, and is represented by Matthew Wikander with Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge in Grand Rapids.

Lincoln spokeswoman Amanda Butler offered condolences to the Holbrook family but declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“While we can’t comment specifically before thoroughly reviewing the suit, we can say that Lincoln Electric is committed to the design and production of safe solutions,” Butler said.

Emails requesting comment from Prodomax, Flex-N-Gate and Nachi were not immediately returned Wednesday.

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