Barrett, Fasig & Brooks’ Client Wins at the 1st District Court of Appeals
By James Fasig
The 1st DCA recently upheld a $3,100,000 judgment we obtained for our client, James Simmons, in May 2015.
The defendant, Mr. Larry Collins, owned an old, beat up angle grinder with no safety guard. The wheel mounting system on this particular angle grinder didn’t have a washer between the grinding wheel and the flange which fastens to the back of the wheel. As a result, there was a high risk of overtightening and cracking the grinding wheel when fastening it to the grinder. The instructions manual for the grinder said that after placing a new wheel on the grinder, the user should run the grinder in a safe, protected area for one minute before using. According to the instructions manual, if the wheel was cracked, it would typically explode within one minute. The defendant did not bother reading the instructions manual. He used the grinder, and let friends and neighbors use the grinder indiscriminately, despite the fact that it had no safety guard. On at least one occasion, a grinding wheel exploded while the defendant was using it.
Fortunately for the defendant, none of the shrapnel from the explosion hit him, so he was uninjured, although he admitted later that he would have been injured if it had hit him. At that point, he didn’t bother investigating why the grinding wheel exploded. He didn’t search for the pieces of the grinding wheel. He didn’t bother purchasing a safety guard for the grinder. He didn’t read the instructions manual. He just continued using the grinder and letting his friends and neighbors use the grinder without warning them about any danger.
One day Mr. Collins’ brother-in-law, Mr. James Simmons, showed up at Mr. Collins’ house and volunteered to help Mr. Collins with a plumbing project. Mr. Simmons was blind in one eye, but had good vision in the other. Mr. Collins was preparing to cut PVC pipe. Mr. Simmons picked up the grinder and noticed the grinding wheel was old and worn. Mr. Collins gave Mr. Simmons another grinding wheel and helped him put it on. Mr. Simmons put on some safety glasses and started cutting a piece of PVC pipe with the grinder. Within less than a minute, the grinding wheel exploded, the shrapnel knocked off Mr. Simmons’ safety glasses, and debris went into Mr. Simmons’ only good eye, rendering Mr. Simmons completely blind.
We went to trial on this case, claiming that the defendant was negligent in allowing Mr. Simmons to use a defective grinder while knowing the grinder was defective and failing to warn Mr. Simmons about the defect. We admitted that our client, Mr. Simmons, was partially at fault for causing this tragedy, but argued that Mr. Collins was also at fault, because he had superior knowledge of the danger presented by using this particular grinder. Mr. Collins admitted no fault. The jury agreed with our argument and found Mr. Collins to be 55% at fault. The jury assigned 45% of the fault to Mr. Simmons. The jury calculated Mr. Simmons’ damages at approximately $5,400,000. After reducing the damages amount by the percentage of fault attributable to Mr. Simmons, the trial court entered a judgment of approximately $3,100,000, which is currently accumulating interest at 4.75%.
The defendant, who was insured with State Farm Insurance, appealed the verdict, saying the dangerous condition of the grinder was open and obvious, therefore the defendant had no duty to warn. He also appealed the trial court’s ruling that Mr. Collins had a duty to provide Mr. Simmons with safe equipment. State Farm, of course, paid for the defense and the appeal. I argued the case in front of three judges at the First District Court of Appeals. You can see the oral arguments at the First District Court of Appeals’ website here. The judges voted unanimously in our favor. This is a big win for our client, who has suffered horribly due to the loss of his eyesight.