Wood Chipper Decapitates Arizona Father of Seven

     PHOENIX (CN) – A man was pulled into a wood chipper and decapitated because the Vermeer Corp. made the machine without safety features, his widow and seven children claim in court.
     Felix Rivera died on Sept. 18, 2014 while trimming trees at a Chevrolet dealer in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb, his wife Rosa Aguirre says in her July 22 lawsuit in Maricopa County Court. She and her children sued Vermeer Corp. and Vermeer Sales Southwest for wrongful death and product liability, but did not sue the Chevrolet dealer, nor Rivera’s employer at the time, Phoenix Trim-A-Tree.
     Felix Rivera was using a Vermeer 1400 wood chipper when he was dragged into the machine at its in-running nip-point area and decapitated, the lawsuit states.
     The in-running nip-points are where the rotating parts of the machine seize and grab.
     “If a human body goes through, it comes out as mush on the other side,” the Riveras’ attorney Andrew Bryman said.
     The Riveras say Vermeer knew or should have known “that for years, wood chipping machines throughout the United States had been causing severe injuries sometimes resulting in death, as a consequence of users of wood chipping machines inadvertently or unintentionally becoming entrapped in the in-running nip point area and pulled into the machine.”
     Bryman says the question is whether Vermeer knew the chipper needed to be made with protective measures.
     “How could they not be aware?” Bryman asked. “One, by prior incidents. Two, by warning signs on the machine that tell you not to get close.”
     According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the machines “can be dangerous for operators and others working nearby” due to the “risk of getting caught in the machine and being pulled into the fast-turning chipper knives.”
     OSHA reports two deaths from wood chippers since October 2014.
     The Riveras say Vermeer’s wood chipper contained a bed area next to the in-running nip point that was too short, forcing him to work too closely to the in-running nip point.
     The machine also lacked safety features to immediately shut down the chipper, such as a knee bar safety device, or a shearing device that would cut any material that may have been connected to Rivera when it entered the in-running nip point.
     “There were feasible, practical and desirable safety guards and/or safety devices available to prevent people working with or in proximity to the machine from being drawn into the machine or being injured by becoming entangled in material being fed into the machine,” the lawsuit states. “In addition, the subject machine lacked appropriate warnings in regard to hazards associated with unprotected moving parts on the subject machine and the potential for becoming entangled or entrapped and dragged into the machine.”
     The family seeks funeral and burial expenses, lost earnings, and damages for wrongful death, product liability, breach of warranty, negligent infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium.
     “There is a mutual thought for fair compensation, and to try to make products safer,” Bryman said. He is with Bryman & Apelian, in Calabasas, Calif. Also representing the Riveras are Carl Piccarreta, with Piccarreta Davis, of Tucson.
     Vermeer did not respond to a request for comment. It is an Iowa corporation with an outlet in Gilbert, Ariz.

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