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Widow accepts $1.5 million settlement in wrongful-death lawsuit

The widow and child of a machinist killed while operating a boring machine in Baltimore have settled for $1.5 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit they filed against the manufacturer.

David M. Desrosiers’ widow and daughter had sued Giddings & Lewis Machine Tools LLC for $20 million in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. They alleged the Wisconsin-based company failed to put “necessary and known” safety devices on the boring tool, which would have prevented Desrosiers’ clothes from becoming entangled in the machine’s rotating spindle on Sept. 7, 2004.

But Giddings & Lewis countered that the machine was in excellent condition and that Desrosiers, who was working at Gischel Machinery Co. in Baltimore, contributed to his own death by having put too large a pin into the spindle, which extends and retracts to cut metal.

“It was a tragic death,” said Charles C. Parsons, the attorney for Bridget A. Desrosiers, her daughter and the estate. David Desrosiers “unfortunately got a little too close to the spindle,” added Parsons, of Charles C. Parsons & Associates Chtd. in Washington, D.C.

The company’s lawyer, Harold J. Friedman, called Desrosiers’ death “a terrible accident” that could have been avoided had the correct key been used. “Unfortunately, the device used with safety in mind was not put into the spindle,” said Friedman, of Friedman Gaythwaite Wolf & Leavitt in Portland, Maine.

In court papers, Parsons stated that the spindle snared Desrosiers’ intestine, disemboweling him and causing his death. Parsons added that a dying Desrosiers, 47, tried desperately but could not reach a distant cutoff switch.

Parsons alleged in the complaint that Giddings & Lewis knew of the deadly threat of entanglement due to earlier lawsuits injured workers had filed against the company. But Giddings & Lewis failed to take steps to eliminate the risk, Parsons added in the court filing.

Such preventive measures could have included placing around the spindle an expandable guard that a Giddings & Lewis engineer, William Zettler, had designed and patented in 1974, Parsons stated. The company could also have installed “a well-known trip wire emergency shut-off device” that would have stopped the machine once Desrosiers became entangled, Parsons added.

Giddings & Lewis rebutted the family’s claims, stating in court papers that its machine “was reasonably safe for the purpose for which it was intended” but that Desrosiers had not followed proper procedure.

The mechanical operation Desrosiers intended to perform required inserting a four-inch “draw key” to secure the boring tool to the end of the spindle, Friedman stated. The draw key would have fit flush, leaving nothing for Desrosiers’ clothes to catch, the attorney added.

But Desrosiers inserted a nine-inch “drift pin,” which protruded from the sides of the boring tool and caught his clothing, Friedman stated.

“Accordingly, the decedent put himself at risk to his being entangled by the protruding nine-inch drift pin rather than using the four-inch draw key that was all along sitting on top of the machine,” Friedman wrote. “He assumed the risks associated with these hazards.”

The family had sought $10 million each in compensatory and punitive damages.

The plaintiffs, under terms of the settlement, agreed not to say anything disparaging about Giddings & Lewis. Parsons, citing the good-faith settlement discussions with the company, said, “Quite frankly, I have nothing disparaging to say.”

Friedman said that, emotionally, wrongful-death cases are the most difficult to litigate because they involve grieving plaintiffs.

“As a human being, you can’t help but feel for them,” he said. “I do not consider a plaintiff to be an adversary. I view the plaintiffs as human beings.”

The federal court had jurisdiction to hear the wrongful-death case because it involved plaintiffs and a defendant from different states and an amount in controversy in excess of $75,000. U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr., citing the settlement, dismissed the case Feb. 17.

BRIDGET A. DESROSIERS ET AL. V. GIDDINGS & LEWIS MACHINE TOOLS LLC

Court:

U.S. District Court, Baltimore

Case No.:

WDQ: 07-CA-00253

Judge:

William D. Quarles Jr.

Outcome:

$1.5 million settlement

Dates:

Event: Sept. 7, 2004

Suit filed: Aug. 24, 2007

Order: Feb. 17, 2011

Plaintiff’s Attorney:

Charles C. Parsons of Charles C. Parsons & Associates Chtd. in Washington, D.C.

Defendant’s Attorney:

Harold J. Friedman of Friedman Gaythwaite Wolf & Leavitt in Portland, Maine.

Counts:

Negligence, breach of warranty, strict liability, wrongful death and survival action.