Failure to warn claims are commonplace in products liability litigation. In an era of increasing frivolity, plaintiffs often attempt to expand the extent to which a manufacturer must warn of potential injury. Recently, with a new law suit, a North Dakota woman is testing the outer limits of a manufacturer’s duty to warn after severing her fingers in a commercial-grade meat grinder.
The Grand Forks Herald that in November 2007 the plaintiff was pushing venison into a (the company has since changed its name to “Weston”) meat grinder as she aided her husband in his meat-processing business. Allegedly, a screw caught the tip of at least one of her gloved fingers and pulled her hand into the grinder – severing four fingers. Subsequently, the plaintiff filed suit against Pragotrade, the alleged manufacturer (Pragotrade has apparently denied that it was the manufacturer, but admitted to participating in the design of the product), and , the retail store in which it was purchased. The report did not specify the jurisdiction in which this suit was filed.
According to our research into the matter, the plaintiff alleges that the grinder’s 2 3/4 inch chute was too large and that it lacked sufficient safety warnings. The plaintiff admits that she declined to use the manufacturer-supplied plastic plunger to push the meat into the grinder. Unfortunately, because meat stuck to the plunger, she opted to use her hands.
In addition, the plaintiff admits that the grinder contained a warning, along with a diagram, to keep fingers out of the chute. However, she alleges that the warning was inadequate because it was not visible during the normal use of the grinder. While her allegations may be correct, the plaintiff omits one obvious piece of evidence – she was using a meat grinder. Admittedly, we here at Abnormal Use have not been privy to the meat grinding process. We assume, however, that the process of grinding meat involves sharp objects and the potential for serious injury. No diagrams are necessary.
In this most litigious of eras, it should come as no surprise that the she has attempted to shift the blame for her loss. There are not enough facts in the record to gauge the merits of any design defect claim, but it is interesting that the Plaintiff has elected to allege that the warning was inadequate. Apparently, there are no allegations that the warning was unclear – only that it wasn’t visible during the grinder’s operation. Given that the grinder’s chute was only 2 3/4 inches large and covered in meat during its operation, we are curious as to where the plaintiff would propose the warning be placed. Moreover, there must come some point at which the dangers of using a product become open and obvious. If a machine is sufficient to grind meat, it should surprise no one that it is also sufficient to damage inserted body parts.