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Sistrunk v. Dake Corporation

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 9, 2015



SARAH S. VANCE, District Judge.

Defendants Dake Corporation and JSJ Corporation move for summary judgment on plaintiffs James and Susan Sistrunk's claims under the Louisiana Products Liability Act.[1] Because plaintiffs fail to show that defendants should have reasonably anticipated Mr. Sistrunk's use of the product, the Court GRANTS the motion for summary judgment.


This dispute arises out of a workplace accident from which plaintiff[2] James Sistrunk sustained injuries. The accident occurred on January 23, 2012, when plaintiff operated a 150-ton hydraulic press in the course of his employment with Pellerin Milnor Corporation. Plaintiff filed this suit against defendants, the manufacturer and designer of the press. Plaintiff alleges that the press was defectively designed and manufactured and that defendants failed to warn under the Louisiana Products Liability Act.[3]

A. Procedural History

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to exclude plaintiff's expert, Don Hansen.[4] Defendants set both motions for submission on January 14, 2015. On January 9, 2015, plaintiff filed a motion to continue the submission date and the trial date on the basis that counsel needed additional time to file memoranda in opposition to the motions.[5] On the same day, plaintiff filed response memoranda to defendants' motions.[6] The Court granted plaintiff's motion to continue on January 12, 2015, and extended the briefing schedule on the motions to allow plaintiff until February 11, 2015, to file supplemental memoranda in opposition.[7] The Court also continued the trial date and set new discovery deadlines.[8] Despite the Court's continuation of the briefing schedule, plaintiff filed no additional memoranda or materials in opposition to defendants' motions. On June 10, 2015, out of an abundance of caution, the Court ordered the parties to submit any supplemental briefing and/or evidence in relation to defendants' motion for summary judgment and motion to exclude. On June 24, 2015, plaintiff filed a supplemental memorandum addressing defendants' motion to exclude, but offered no additional briefing or evidence as to the summary judgment motion.

B. Summary Judgment Record

1. The Press

In 1997, Pellerin purchased a 150-ton model 42-403 hydraulic power press manufactured by Dake Corporation.[9] Pellerin manufactures large commercial laundry machines and uses Dake's press to assemble and disassemble various component parts. The press is a generic hydraulic press that can be used for a number of purposes.[10] It exerts up to 150 tons of compressive force on objects placed inside of it. The press features a bed upon which the object to be pressed is placed. It also features a powered ram that travels vertically on two parallel tracks above the bed.

When Dake manufactured the press, it affixed to it a warning label.[11] Relevant here, one of the warnings states: "Guard workpiece to prevent projectiles from reaching operator. Wear eye protection."[12] The accompanying pictogram depicts a user being struck by projectiles on the head, torso, and leg.

Dake shipped a product manual for the model 42-403 press with the press at the time of Pellerin's initial purchase.[13] The product manual includes an instruction that the safety labels affixed to the machine are to be kept in good condition and replaced when missing or damaged and that the owner of the press is to ensure that employees understand the warning labels.[14] The product manual further instructs: "Guard workplace to prevent projectiles from reaching operator. Mount ½" below stop block or at eye level centered on flange as shown."[15] The instruction is outlined by a box, which is connected by a line to a diagram of the press to demonstrate where the guard should be installed.[16] According to Dake, because it does not know the intended use of its generic presses and because it does not know the size and shape of the objects that will be placed into its presses, it cannot provide a uniform, one-size-fits-all guard at the time of manufacture.[17]

In 1999, Pellerin paid Dake to make certain upgrades to the press, and Dake converted the press to a model 42-503 press.[18] Part of that process included confirming all warning labels were on the press.[19] This modification made the model 42-503 manual applicable to the press.[20] In 2001, in response to an order from Pellerin requesting a manual for the 42-503 model press, Dake mailed the 42-503 model manual to Pellerin as well as a duplicate set of warning labels.[21] The warning labels contained identical guard instructions as those already described.[22] The 42-503 press product manual contained identical instructions regarding the employer's duty to provide a guard against projectiles and the employer's duty to ensure that employees understand the warning labels affixed to the machine.[23]

2. The Accident

Plaintiff was injured on January 23, 2012, while operating the press as a Pellerin employee.[24] At the time of his injury, plaintiff was attempting to press a seal sleeve and old bearing off of a shaft.[25] Instead of using the specific tooling Pellerin manufactures for use with the press, plaintiff used an eight-inch long piece of scrap metal (the "scrap shaft") as an extension between the ram of the press and the piece of metal he intended to press.[26] The eight-inch scrap shaft was not affixed or attached to the ram in any way.[27] As he started to apply pressure with the press, plaintiff attempted to secure the eight-inch shaft under the ram of the press with his left hand, with his ...

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