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Sanchez v. Hitachi Koki, Co., Ltd.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fourth Division

July 9, 2013

ANDRES SANCHEZ et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
HITACHI KOKI, CO., LTD., et al., Defendants and Respondents.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Super. Ct. No. LC091995 Frank J. Johnson, Judge.

Brown, Brown & Brown and David S. Brown for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Youngerman & McNutt, Thomas B. McNutt, Robert L. Panza; and Ronald P. Kaplan for Defendants and Respondents.

MANELLA, J.

INTRODUCTION

Andres Sanchez, and his wife, Blanca Perez, appeal from a judgment following an order granting summary judgment in favor of respondents Hitachi Koki, Co., Ltd. and Hitachi Koki U.S.A., Ltd. Appellants contend the superior court erred in determining that respondents, who manufactured a grinder, were not liable for personal injuries resulting from Sanchez’s use of the grinder with a saw blade manufactured by a third party. We conclude the California Supreme Court’s recent decision in O’Neil v. Crane Co. (2012) 53 Cal.4th 335 (O’Neil) resolves the instant matter in favor of respondents. Accordingly, we affirm.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

At the time of the underlying accident, Sanchez drove and maintained trucks for his employer. On September 16, 2009, Sanchez was attempting to cut a tire to make a motor mount to fix one of his employer’s trucks. Sanchez initially attempted to cut the tire using his own four-inch grinder, but the grinder became stuck in the rubber of the tire. Sanchez then went to a Roadside Lumber & Hardware store to purchase a bigger grinder. At the hardware store, he purchased a Hitachi grinder and a Razor Back tooth saw blade. The safety instructions and instruction manual for the Hitachi grinder expressly warned that saw blades should never be used with the grinder.[1] After returning to his workplace, Sanchez placed the saw blade on the spindle of the grinder, and attempted to cut the tire. When the saw blade came into contact with the tire, Sanchez lost control of the grinder, and the saw blade cut Sanchez’s left hand.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

On December 2, 2010, appellants filed a personal injury form complaint against defendants Roadside Lumber & Hardware, Inc., Ace Hardware Corporation, and Does 1 to 100. The complaint alleged causes of action for product liability and general negligence. In the complaint, appellants alleged that Sanchez injured his left hand while using a Hitachi grinder in combination with a Razor Back tooth saw blade.[2] Appellants alleged that defendants “recommended, selected, and sold” the products to be used together, and that “[u]sing a saw blade on a grinder is unsafe, because the saw blade is not guarded on a grinder, as opposed to a saw.” In July 2011, the complaint was amended to add respondents.[3]

Respondents filed separate answers, generally denying the allegations. Respondents also alleged, as affirmative defenses, product misuse and product modification. On June 14, 2012, respondents filed a motion for summary judgment. Citing O’Neil, respondents asserted that they were not liable on either cause of action. In O’Neil, the Supreme Court had held that “a product manufacturer may not be held liable in strict liability or negligence for harm caused by another manufacturer’s product unless the defendant’s own product contributed substantially to the harm, or the defendant participated substantially in creating a harmful combined use of the products.” (O’Neil, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 342.) Respondents asserted that the saw blade was not manufactured by Hitachi, that the grinder did not require the use of the saw blade, and that appellants’ own expert conceded that the grinder was not intended to be used with a saw blade. After noting there were two separate written warnings advising consumers never to use a saw blade with the grinder, respondents argued they had no duty to warn Sanchez about not using a saw blade with the grinder or to provide kickback prevention for a product not intended to be used with the grinder.[4] Finally, respondents contended they were not liable for any representations made by employees of the hardware store about the use of a saw blade with a grinder.

Appellants opposed the summary judgment motion, contending that O’Neil was distinguishable, because in the instant case, Hitachi’s grinder itself was defective. Appellants argued the grinder was defective because (1) it lacked kickback prevention, (2) it was made so that the most common circular saw blade would fit it, and (3) there was no applicable warning on the grinder itself.

In their reply, respondents argued (1) the lack of kickback prevention was not a legal cause of the accident, as a saw blade was never intended to be used with the grinder, (2) the fact that common saw blades could be used with the grinder was legally irrelevant, as O’Neil had held that “mere compatibility” is not enough to render a product defective (O’Neil, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 350), and (3) the adequacy of the warnings was legally irrelevant, as respondents had no duty to warn.

On September 10, 2012, the superior court granted the motion for summary judgment. In its written order, the court found as a matter of law, “that use of a saw blade with the Hitachi Grinder is not the inevitable use of the grinder, nor even an intended use of the grinder, pursuant to O’Neil v. Crane Co. (2012) 53 Cal.4th 335, and therefore, pursuant to the component parts doctrine, Defendants HITACHI: had no duty to design the grinder in such a way as to prevent use of their grinder with a saw blade; had no duty to provide kickback prevention; ...


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