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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Reboot in Lawsuit Over Tire-Shredding Fatality

(CN) - An Ohio judge improperly ruled against the family of a plant worker fell into a tire-shredding machine and died from his horrific injuries, an appeals court ruled.

Scott Johnson, 56, was a temporary worker at Rumpke of Ohio's tire-shredding plant in Butler County. His job was to feed tires into a shredder that would cut them into 2-inch-square pieces.

While trying to clear a blockage, Johnson fell into the shredding machine, where he was stuck for 50 minutes. He lost most of the skin on the left side of his body, suffered a broken leg and had an arm amputated.

After 52 agonizing days in the hospital, Johnson died from his injuries.

His family sued Rumpke under Ohio's Intentional Tort Statute, claiming that the company deliberately removed safety equipment from the shredding machine.

In addition to Rumpke, the family sued the machine's manufacturer, Columbus McKinnon Co., and the temporary agency, The Labor Co.

The Butler County Court of Common Pleas ruled in the defendants' favor, stating that most of the equipment mentioned in the plaintiff's lawsuit did not qualify as "equipment safety guards."

In addition, the trial court said that Rumpke had rebutted the intent-to-injure presumption in the intentional-tort statute.

A three-judge panel of the 12th Appellate District in Middletown overturned some of the directed verdicts on Oct. 28.

"By rigging the tire shredder to bypass the interlock switch and removing the hinged hood, we find this constitutes the deliberate removal of an 'equipment safety guard' under (the statute)," Judge Stephen Powell wrote for the panel.

The defendants also had not rebutted the intent-to-injure presumption, and that the issue should be settled on remand to the trial court, according to the ruling.

"Based on the facts and circumstances of this case, whether the intent to injure presumption was successfully rebutted by Rumpke was wholly dependent upon the jury's determination of the credibility and weight to be given to (foreman Craig) Stidham's trial testimony," Powell wrote.

Racheal Downard, Johnson's niece, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Johnson's estate, his two daughters and his four siblings.

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