In product liability cases involving allegedly defective machines such as printing presses, plastic molding machinery, power saws, power presses and innumerable others, the defense will invariably argue that it was the plaintiff’s culpable conduct which caused the accident and resulting injury. In other words, the defendant will argue that it was the plaintiff’s failure to use the machine properly or to follow warnings which caused the plaintiff’s injury. The problem confronting the plaintiff’s attorney is that plaintiff will often not have used the machine properly. Given this fact, the jury must be taught that such misuses were reasonably foreseeable and that the manufacturer knew or should have known that users are people and that people can make mistakes which must be guarded and warned against.
The deposition of the defendant’s design engineer is crucial. Defendants will often produce a risk manager on behalf of the manufacturer for deposition. This is totally unacceptable. The plaintiff’s attorney must insist that a design engineer with knowledge of the product be produced in order, among other things, to deal effectively with the affirmative defense of culpable conduct. Indeed, the deposition notice should be specific in this regard.
In order to effectively depose defendant’s design engineer with regard to the defense that the plaintiff’s negligence caused the accident, the plaintiff’s attorney must understand the concept of ergonomics as it relates to design engineering. An understanding of hazard analysis is also required. Ergonomics as it relates to machine design involves the consideration of human factors and characteristics in designing safety features into machines. The basic precept is that people make mistakes. Since this is foreseeable to the design engineer, it must be taken into consideration when designing a machine. A machine must be designed so as to reduce, as much as technologically feasible, without destroying the utility of the machine, foreseeable actions by the operator resulting in injury. In order to design a machine so as to reduce the potential of injury resulting from human error, hazard analysis must include a collection of accident and injury information. Machine design is not a stagnant event, but an ever evolving process, which requires constant review of injury data, so that modifications to the machine design may be made to eliminate predictable human behavior resulting in injury. A hazard is a condition that may cause injury. Once a hazard has been identified, the risk of injury as a result of the hazard must be reduced as much as possible while preserving the utility of the machine. A machine is dangerous when the risk of being injured by the identified hazard is unacceptable.