ATLANTA (CN) — A kitchen equipment manufacturer ordered to pay a multimillion-dollar verdict to a grocery store butcher whose arm was amputated by a meat saw asked an 11th Circuit panel Wednesday for a new trial on the butcher’s negligence lawsuit.
Danny Crawford was using a vertical band saw to cut meat in a Jacksonville, Florida, supermarket on a busy Sunday morning in February 2015. Crawford was supervising half a dozen employees in the noisy meat room when he stepped away from the power saw while it was still running to reach for a nearby knife.
The Hobart Model 6614 vertical band saw, which was manufactured by ITW Food Equipment Group LLC, did not have an automatic blade guard.
While he was distracted, Crawford’s right arm touched the saw blade. The machine immediately amputated his right arm below the elbow.
Crawford and his wife Betty Ann sued ITW in November 2016 for negligence and product liability, claiming that the company failed to properly design the saw to include a shield that would automatically guard the blade when not in use.
After a four-day trial in May 2018, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Crawford in the amount of $10 million plus an addition $3.5 million for his wife. The jury decided that Crawford was 70% negligent but that the manufacturer’s design of the saw was the legal cause of his injury.
An amended judgment was entered in favor of Crawford for $2.9 million and $1 million for his wife.
On Wednesday, an attorney representing ITW asked a three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based appeals court to reverse U.S. District Judge Henry Adams Jr.’s February 2019 order denying her client’s motion for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial.
Elizabeth Wright of Thompson Hine acknowledged that Crawford experienced a “tragic accident” but said that the district court did not fulfill “its role to ensure that only appropriate expert testimony and evidence was presented” at trial.
Wright told the 11th Circuit panel that the Crawfords failed to prove the meat saw was defective and that their experts’ testimony was inadmissible.
At trial, the couple presented the testimony of Ralph Barnett, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, who testified that ITW did not use reasonable care in its design of the saw’s blade guard.
But Wright argued Wednesday that Crawford was fully at fault for the accident, not the manufacturer.
“I believe that it is obvious that if you’re inattentive, this is going to happen. There is no evidence that there has ever been any notice to [ITW] of anyone doing what Mr. Crawford has done. With 150,000 meat saws out there over 70 years, no one has ever claimed they walked away, leaving a meat saw running with the blade guard completely exposed,” the attorney said.
Wright pointed out that Crawford admitted during the trial that it would be reasonable for the manufacturer to assume he would lower the guard when he walked away from the saw.
“If you’re going to look at whether there was reasonableness here and defect, the evidence in the record is to the contrary. What [ITW] did was reasonable and what Mr. Crawford did was not,” she told the panel.
Arguing on behalf of the Crawfords, Tallahassee-based attorney John Mills asked the panel to uphold Adams’ ruling.
“The purpose of tort law is to encourage changes in behavior. We don’t just say we’re not going to have seatbelts because nobody’s put them in before, or we’re not going to have a blade guard because nobody’s done that before,” Mills said. “The evidence was that [ITW] never considered protecting the blade because they just didn’t think it was a problem.”
He added, “Leaving a super dangerous piece of equipment running in full operation with no guard – they never considered protecting against that. Had they considered protecting against that, it would have been easy to do.”
The panel was comprised of Senior U.S. Circuit Judge R. Lanier Anderson III, a Jimmy Carter appointee, U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, a Barack Obama appointee, and Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat, a Gerald Ford appointee.
It is unclear when the judges will issue a ruling in the case.