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Perkins v. Sentry Equipment Erectors, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 6, 2017



          KANDIS A. WESTMORE United States Magistrate Judge

         On August 14, 2015, Plaintiff Charles Christopher Perkins filed this products liability action against Defendant Sentry Equipment Erectors, Inc. in state court. Thereafter, the case was removed to federal court and consolidated with the Lagunitas Brewing Company v. Sentry Equipment Erectors, Inc. action, which has since settled. Before the Court is Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment against Mr. Perkins on the failure to warn claim.

         On July 6, 2017, the Court held a hearing, and, after careful consideration of the parties' arguments and moving papers, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Sentry designs and manufactures machinery for use in the beverage bottling industry. In the Spring and Summer of 2013, Lagunitas, a large-scale beer brewer and bottler, custom-designed and purchased a Sentry bulk depalletizer (“depal”) machine to incorporate into its existing beer bottling line. The depal removes (“sweeps”) layers of bottles, which are stacked on a wooden pallet, one layer at a time, thereby feeding empty bottles into the bottling line. (See Decl. of Craig A. Livingston, “Livingston Decl., ” Dkt. No. 77-2 ¶ 2; Def.'s Dep. of Charles Christopher Perkins, “Def.'s Perkins Dep., ” Livingston Decl., Ex. A at 147:11-151:12.)

         A. Plaintiff's Employment at Lagunitas and his injury

         Lagunitas hired Perkins in December 2011 as a “maintenance team lead” for the packaging (bottling and kegging) line in its Petaluma plant. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 31:18-32:1.) On August 19, 2013, Perkins' supervisor, Ryder Morrison, asked him to work on the depal to determine the cause of a recurring “fault code” problem believed to involve a photo eye sensor and reflector in the empty pallet discharge area. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 123:17-125:13). Perkins suspected he might need to replace the reflector, so he took a new one with him from his office to the depal. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 165:22-168:7.)

         When Perkins arrived at the depal, he was aware that it was in operation because he could see and hear the machine sweeping layers of empty glass bottles from a loaded pallet in the hoist. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 133:17-134:9.) Perkins thought the fault code problem could have been attributable to a light emitting photo eye sensor and/or a damaged or out-of-adjustment photo eye reflector. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 133:17-134:13.) First, Perkins checked to see if the machine registered power to the photo eye, which is indicated by the illumination of two small indicator lights (one green, one yellow). (Pl.'s Perkins Dep., Krankemann Decl., Ex. 16 at 143:9-144:7.) The green light indicates that the machine is on, and the yellow light means that the circuit is complete, which means that the laser is hitting the reflector and being sent back to the sensor. Id. Perkins confirmed that the indicator lights were both on. Id.

         Next, since the lights were on, Perkins attempted to visually determine whether the photo eye was actually functioning, as opposed to the indicator light being on without function. (Pl.'s Perkins Dep., Krankemann Decl., Ex. 17 at 145:14-147:3.) To do so, Perkins leaned over at the waist and placed his entire upper body in the pallet discharge area, placing his left hand on the concrete floor, and his right hand on the pallet stop bar component for balance, in an attempt to look down and back toward his right to see the reflector attached to the inside of the machine. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 145:14-148:25.) Both of Perkins' feet were in contact with the concrete floor outboard of the depal, and his upper body and arms were inside the depal. Id.

         Perkins knew the pallet stop bar would rise periodically during the normal operation of the machine to allow an empty pallet to be discharged from the rear side of the hoist. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 86:5-88:10.) While Perkins attempted to look at the reflector, the pallet stop bar rose and “grabbed” his right hand resulting in significant crush injuries to his wrist. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 151:2-23.) Perkins admitted that he did not use LOTO procedures prior to positioning himself into the operating machine. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 173:7-10.)

         B. Plaintiff's prior experience

         As of the date of his accident, Perkins had 19 years of experience as a maintenance and repair technician between his employment at Lagunitas and prior jobs. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 20:9-23:24, 24:17-25:25.) Perkins understood LOTO was a safety practice intended to ensure a machine has been locked out from all energy sources to avoid sustaining an injury while performing work. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 41:10-42:2.) Not only had Perkins been trained in LOTO procedures in prior jobs, in a prior position it was his job to train other on safety matters, including LOTO. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 42:7-43:25.) Perkins personally taught between 625 and 1, 200 employees LOTO procedures during 25 to 30 training seminars provided over a six-year period. (See Def.'s Perkins Dep. 44:1-8.) These LOTO safety courses involved instructional videos, class work, question and answer sessions, and physical demonstrations of how to use proper LOTO procedures on actual machines. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 44:16-46:7.)

         Perkins also received LOTO training once employed at Lagunitas. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 46:17-20.) For example, on February 15, 2011, Perkins attended a safety training class - taught by supervisor Ryder Morrison - covering LOTO procedures, during which Perkins received a LOTO training handout which covered LOTO procedures in detail. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 46:17-51:18, 52:25-53:7.) Separate and apart from his extensive LOTO training, Perkins had, on many occasions, personally utilized LOTO procedures while performing service and repair work on machines. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 42:7-43:2.) The LOTO training Perkins taught others at Kinetic Systems and the LOTO training he received pre-accident at Lagunitas both covered the same important LOTO procedures: 1) Prepare for the shutdown; 2) Shutdown; 3) Isolate energy sources; 4) Apply locks & tags; 5) Control residual energy; and 6) Verify energy control methods. (Def.'s Perkins Dep. 50:3-51:18, 52:25-58:23.)

         While at Lagunitas and prior to his accident, Perkins attended a separate “Job Hazard Analysis” training class on September 24, 2012, and he was specifically instructed to follow all LOTO procedures whenever performing maintenance, unjamming or other service work on any machine. (Def.'s Perkins Decl. 61:8-65:15.) Perkins attended this training class and received the training handout from this course which, among other things, instructed him to:

(1) “Ensure that lockout procedures are followed”;
(2) “Read all safety owner manual instructions and follow them”;
(3) “Never, never, never reach into the point of operation of any machine unless it is locked out and blocked ...

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