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Man Settles for $7.9 Mil. After Arms Crushed by Baler at Work

Gina Passarella, Legal Intelligencer WriterApril 22, 2013

A man whose arms were crushed by a cardboard baler while working at Acme has reached a combined $7.9 million settlement with the manufacturer, service technician and replacement part provider of the equipment.

The trial in Hedlund v. Marathon Equipment was slated to begin in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas this June, but after mediation with JAMS’s Jerry Roscoe, the three defendants agreed last week to share in a settlement with plaintiff Christopher Hedlund.

Defendant Marathon Equipment Co. was the manufacturer of the cardboard baler and agreed to contribute $3.7 million to the overall settlement, according to attorneys and communications from both sides of the case. Defendant Tec Serv Inc. was the service technician of the baler and replaced a bar that broke, resulting in the baler crushing Hedlund’s arms. It agreed to contribute $3.7 million to the settlement, according to the attorneys. Defendant RAM Hydraulics Inc. provided the refurbished bar that Tec Serv installed. It agreed to a $500,000 settlement.

Hedlund’s attorney, Daniel J. Mann, who worked on the case with his Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig colleagues Alan Feldman and Edward S. Goldis, said the settlement was a fair number given his client can still live on his own, drive, go to the gym and do most daily activities, albeit with some limitations and difficulty.

The initial demand in the case, according to court documents, was $14 million. That fell to $10.5 million after the first round of mediation in March, at which point the defense had offered a combined $5.55 million, according to court papers.

Hedlund was a sales associate at the Paoli Acme Markets when he was working in a storage area in the back of the store. As he attempted to remove two pieces of cardboard that were stuck in the baler, a hydraulic cylinder rod that supported the 800-pound steel plate used to compress the cardboard fractured in half, causing the plate to drop on Hedlund’s arms, according to his pretrial memorandum.

Hedlund argued Marathon poorly designed the baler by not incorporating a stronger design at the connection point where the cylinder meets the plate. He argued Marathon should have incorporated a safety restraint cable that would have caught the plate before it fell on Hedlund’s arms.

As to Tec Serv, Hedlund argued that the company did not properly install the hydraulic cylinder. He said the Tec Serv technician failed to install two of the four required fastener bolts at their appropriate location and did not properly tighten the two that were in place. Hedlund further argued in court papers that Tec Serv failed to notice or correct its initial error in subsequent follow-up maintenance calls for the baler.

Hedlund argued RAM rebuilt the cylinder, including the installation of the used cylinder rod that ultimately fractured on the day of the accident. He argued RAM knew nothing about the history of the used rod and took no steps to ensure it was not compromised before installing it into the new cylinder and sending it to Tec Serv for installation in the baler, according to court papers.

In its pretrial memorandum, Marathon argued the baler was in good condition when it left the company’s possession in 2002. Marathon argued RAM’s use of a “used, fatigued” rod was not proper. It also argued Hedlund shouldn’t have stuck his hands into the machine. Marathon was represented by Joseph Goldberg of Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby. He did not return a call for comment.

Tec Serv did not outline its position on liability in its pretrial memorandum. A call to the company’s attorney, Allen R. Bunker of Comeau & Bunker in Philadelphia, was not returned.

In its pretrial memorandum, RAM argued there was no evidence the rod it provided was fatigued at the time it was provided. RAM further argued that the rod failed due to improper installation by Tec Serv, according to the court documents. RAM also argued the baler was designed without a fail safe in the event of a rod failure. RAM was represented by John F. Kent of Kent & McBride in Philadelphia. He did not return a call for comment.

Mann said the defendants were set to argue at trial that Acme, Hedlund’s employer, had failed to renew its service contract with Tec Serv about a year before Hedlund’s accident. Mann said the defendants would have argued that, had routine service continued, the accident could have been prevented.

Mann said another issue raised during the case was that Hedlund ignored signs not to put his arms into the baler. But Mann said that is only for when the baler is in operation and crushing cardboard. He said the user’s arms have to go into the baler when placing the cardboard into the machine before crushing it. Mann said Marathon’s instructional video on how to use the baler shows someone putting their arms into the machine to load the cardboard.

According to Mann, Hedlund is now 53 years old and is disabled. Hedlund’s doctors said he could develop worsening arthritis from his injuries, requiring increased future medical care. The settlement is a cash settlement that will not include an annuity, according to communications between the parties. Hedlund has also agreed to create a Medicare set aside to resolve any past or present Medicare liens, according to those communications.