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Mechanic who lost fingers settles lawsuits for $1M

A manufacturing plant mechanic who lost his fingers after a machine crushed and burned his hand has confidentially settled a lawsuit against the machine’s manufacturer for $1,000,000, his attorneys report.

Douglas Jennings of Yarborough Applegate in Charleston said his client was working at a plant in the Pee Dee region in December 2013. While he attempted to find an air leak in a press machine, he removed a guard on the machine and his dominant hand became trapped in the machine.  

“He sustained a horrific degloving injury, and he ultimately lost his middle, ring, and pinky fingers,” Jennings said. “After several surgeries, he was left with only limited use of his index finger and thumb, and he now has to wear a prosthetic.” (Degloving is an injury where, as the name evokes, an extensive portion of a person’s skin is completely torn off from the underlying tissue.)

The mechanic filed two federal lawsuits, a breach of warranty claim against the European machine manufacture and a product liability and negligent-design action against the company’s American subsidiary. The claims focused on the absence of an interlock device that would have allowed a mechanic to perform the diagnostic test with the machine fully engaged, but not in gear.

“Such an interlock device would essentially work like a neutral gear in an automobile, and would have prevented his injuries,” Jennings said.

The defense claimed that the removal of the guard was contrary to the plant’s safety protocols, and that the mechanic’s own negligence had caused his injuries. The mechanic countered that removing the guard with the machine fully engaged was the only practical way to allow him to locate an air leak, and moreover, the way he had been taught to do it.  

Jennings said his client was not the first worker to suffer this type of injury.

“Interlock devices have been around for decades, and if one had been utilized on this machine, he would still have his hand,” said Austin Crosby of Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth Detrick in Hampton, who also represented the client. “Unfortunately, the manufacturer of this machine chose to ignore basic engineering design safety principles.”

The man has since been able to secure temporary work but has been unable to find full-time work.

“He is optimistic about the future, because he is a candidate for a biomechanical hand to replace the prosthetic device he is currently using,” Jennings said. 

Follow Bill Cresenzo on Twitter @bcresenzosclw


Amount: $1,000,000

Injuries alleged: Amputated fingers

Case name: Withheld

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Mediator: John Tiller of Haynesworth Sinkler Boyd in Charleston

Date of settlement: November 2019

Attorneys for plaintiff: Austin Crosby of Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth Detrick in Hampton and Douglas E. Jennings of Yarborough Applegate in Charleston 

Attorneys for defendants: Withheld

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