(CN) - An Italian company "allegedly in dire financial straits" is liable for the "degloving" of a worker's hand, "in which his skin was torn away and his fingers were partially amputated," a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter ruled for Gil Grove and against Rizzi 1857 S.P.A., in Philadelphia Federal Court.
Gil Grove's left hand was pulled into the rollers of a Rizzi smoothing and drying machine at Garden State Tanning on Aug. 7, 2002, in Reading, Pa.
"Following this gruesome injury, Mr. Grove has undergone surgeries, physical therapy, and other medical treatments, and his claimed losses include permanent disfigurement, an inability to work, loss of earning capacity, and continuing pain and suffering," the judge wrote.
In 2004, Grove sued Rizzi, which made the machine and sold it to Garden State Tanning. He sought damages for strict product liability, breach of warranty and negligence.
After repeatedly seeking to extend its time to respond, Rizzi finally retained counsel and answered Grove's complaint nearly a year after the suit began.
But by 2006, Rizzi's efforts in the case essentially ended. In May 2006, Rizzi's counsel moved to withdraw, claiming the company had voluntarily liquidated itself under Italian law and wished to proceed unrepresented.
The motion was granted, but when Rizzi failed to send a representative to a May 2007 status conference and did not obtain counsel as directed, the court entered default judgment against it in March 2008, staying the case to determine how Italian bankruptcy law affected the lawsuit.
After Grove's counsel informed the court that Rizzi had failed to file a petition for bankruptcy recognition, the stay was lifted and Grove sought default judgment in May 2012.
Grove's counsel notified Rizzi of the motion in June and a hearing was held in July.
Rizzi filed six affirmative defenses: failure to state a claim; statute of limitations, laches, and/or estoppel; contributory negligence; assumption of risk; and that Grove's injuries were caused by people over whom Rizzi "has no control and for whom it is not responsible."
But because Rizzi failed to supply "specific facts," Judge Pratter this week granted Grove's motion as to liability and set a jury trial to determine damages.
"The machine was defective because it lacked all the necessary safety features to protect users, including an automatic shut-off mechanism on its underside that would have prevented a worker's hand, like Mr. Grove's, from being crushed," Pratter wrote, accepting Grove's strict product liability theory.
Grove's breach of warranty claim also survived.
"According to the well-pleaded allegations of Mr. Grove's complaint, Rizzi breached the implied warranty because its machine had so many flaws that it was not fit for use by workers," the 8-page ruling states. "Rizzi denied Mr. Grove's averments on this issue. Again, though, Rizzi did not provide 'specific facts beyond simple denials or [conclusory] statements' to show that it did not violate the implied warranty of merchantability. As such, Rizzi has not set forth a meritorious defense to this count."
Rizzi's "intentional" misconduct did not help its case, either.
"While Rizzi did eventually answer Mr. Grove's complaint, it has gone years without actively defending itself in this action and, as stated above, ignored numerous orders issued by the court," Pratter wrote. "This conduct qualifies as culpable, and as such, the third factor favors granting default judgment."
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.