Lathe Chuck Injury Due to Faulty Lathe Operation

One of the more interesting cases that we have been assigned had to do with a personal injury suffered as a result of an airborne chuck.  The injury occurred after an individual purchased a chuck and spindle adapter for use with a Shop Smith lathe that was manufactured back in the late 40s or early 50s (see photos below).

 

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Chuck and pin wrench used to tighten chuck onto spindle adapter

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Antique Shop Smith Lathe

After attaching the spindle and mounting the chuck, the owner started the lathe and tested the operation.  Everything went well until the machine was turned off.  As soon as it was, the spindle shaft stopped but the chuck kept spinning and spun itself off the adapter.  The chuck went airborne, bounced off parts of the lathe and hit the owner’s hand causing severe injury.  The investigation came about as a result of the owner’s allegation of a defective product, ie, the chuck was defectively designed and had no means of stopping if it separated from the spindle adapter.  The chuck is designed to be tightened against the spindle adapter using special wrenches.  According to the owner, he claimed that he “tightened the chuck as tight as he could” before starting the lathe.  During the examination of the lathe, the lathe was started and run without the chuck attached.  When the lathe was turned off, it immediately became clear that there was something wrong when the spindle shaft did NOT coast to a stop.  It was also clear that the abrupt stop provided the torque necessary to cause the chuck to spin off the spindle adapter.  In addition, it was also noted that if the chuck was to stay attached to the spindle adapter, the torque applied during tightening had to be greater than the torque causing separation.  After working the math, it was determined that the owner could not have tightened the chuck was much as he claimed.  As a result, it was further determined that the owner unfortunately caused his own injury by ignoring the problem of abrupt stopping of the spindle shaft.  The lawsuit was subsequently dismissed.

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A Word About Fraud…

Every once in awhile a case comes along that has a little bit more intrigue than the run-of-the mill investigation. A few years ago, we were asked to look into why a man was injured while working on a scissor lift that had apparently gotten away from him. In order to understand what happened, it is important that one realizes that a scissor lift can be raised and lowered while in place or moved forward and backward. The controls for this particular lift were located on the side of the platform railing and were raised and lowered as the platform was raised and lowered. This particular lift had been rented from an equipment rental company by a construction company and as stated earlier, was in use at the time of the accident. Specifically, a construction employee was standing on the platform in a raised position while attempting to move the lift to his left. Upon releasing the control to stop the machine, the machine did not respond and eventually crashed into a forklift. As a result of this incident, the rental company, by its contractual agreement with the construction company, was expecting to be indemnified because the employee had filed suit against the rental company for his injuries.

After receiving this assignment, a trip was made to the rental company’s location in order to conduct an examination of the machine. At first, no restrictions had been placed on the examination. Upon arrival, it was learned from rental company representatives that the lift could not be operated, disassembled, or tested in any way. The examination was to be limited to taking photographs and making notes of observations. One of the photographs that was taken is shown below. The photograph shows the condition of the control panel as it was found during the first examination. Note the dirty appearance and the type of joystick used.

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Approximately four months later, a joint examination was organized wherein various parties that had used or worked on the machine gathered to witness the testing and examination of the lift. The examination was begun with allowing all of the parties to photograph the machine. Although the machine had been photographed four months previous, the lift was again photographed. When the photographs were later reviewed and compared with the photographs taken at the first examination, it was then discovered that the control in place during the second examination was different form the control initially found on the machine. The appearance of the control shown below is the control that was on the lift during the second examination. Clearly, this control is different from the one shown in the photograph above. It then became obvious that not only had the control been replaced but, the only reason to replace the control was to hide the problem in the first control that most likely caused the accident. Once the lawyers were made aware of the switch, the claim for indemnification by the rental company soon disappeared. Presumably, the lawsuit filed by the employee against the rental company was settled.

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Although fraud exists, even in civil cases, it is fairly hard to prove. This aforementioned case was more the exception than the rule. Over the past 30 years, I have had several cases where I thought that something was missing or there was more to the situation than “meets the eye”. In all cases, at the end of the day, it’s what you can prove not what you can feel. If you can develop proof for what you can feel, then great! If not, then all you do is conclude based on your evidence. If you are going to commit fraud, be prepared to cover even the smallest detail. As illustrated above, no one thought that the control replacement would be noticed, but it was!

 

A Successful Trial

Recently, one of our clients successfully defended themselves against a lawsuit alleging faulty workmanship.  The circumstances were such that our client performed an oil change on a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500.  Once the truck was returned to their customer, the vehicle was driven between 1700 and 1800 miles when oil was observed to have been leaking from the truck.  In the process of leaking oil, the engine was damaged and was going to have to be replaced.  Upon investigating, it was determined that the oil filter gasket had torn and allowed oil to leak from the filter.  The company that owned the truck subsequently filed suit against our client and the manufacturer of the oil filter.  During the trial we were able to prove that the damaged gasket was not the result of installation and that the oil filter and gasket were manufactured by the oil filter company named in the lawsuit.  Our client was found to have been completely blameless and the filter manufacturer 100% at fault.

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