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Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 2, 2019

Richard A. Clark, Plaintiff-Appellant, Cross-Appellee,
v.
River Metals Recycling, LLC, Defendant-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, and Sierra International Machinery, LLC, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued April 8, 2019

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 3:15-cv-00447-JPG-RJD - J. Phil Gilbert, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Scudder and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

          WOOD, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Accidents unfortunately happen on business premises with some regularity. The workers' compensation system normally governs payments from employers to injured workers, but those workers are free to sue other parties, such as suppliers or lessors of machinery that is used on the site. That is what happened here: Richard A. Clark was badly injured as he was getting off a car-crushing machine known as a mobile RB6000 Logger/Baler ("the Crusher"), which was used by his employer, Thornton Auto Crushing, LLC. He sued both the manufacturer of the Crusher, Sierra International Machinery, LLC, and the company that had leased it to Thornton, River Metals Recycling, LLC, asserting that they were liable to him under Illinois tort law because it was defectively designed. The district court granted summary judgment in both defendants' favor after it decided to strike the testimony from Clark's expert. Even taking the facts in the light most favorable to Clark, as we must, we conclude that the district court was correct to take this action. We therefore affirm its judgment.

         I

         A

         Scrap cars eventually end up with a company such as Thornton, which crushes cars and sends what remains to a salvage company. One of the machines Thornton used to squash the cars was the Crusher. The Crusher had been assembled in Italy and then imported into the United States by Sierra. Sierra sold it to a company called Tri-State, which in turn conveyed it to River Metals through an asset-only purchase agreement. River Metals leased it to Thornton.

         The Crusher was a rather large machine, as the picture of it that appears in the record shows:

         (Image Omitted)

         Every other day or so for about 18 months before his accident, Clark had worked with this machine. He was responsible for daily maintenance, including checking the oil, antifreeze, and hydraulic fluids. In order to perform these tasks, he would clamber up the right side of the machine, stepping and grabbing onto whatever was handy: the hydraulic lines, a hose, or a cylinder, for example. This was not a method endorsed by Sierra: it recommended instead that workers use either a ladder or a working platform, such as a manlift or a forklift, to reach the tanks. When the time came to get down, Clark typically turned, stepped down from the tank-level platform (about 60 inches above the ground) onto the steel plate on top of the stabilizer (about 45 inches from the ground), and from there jumped the rest of the way.

         On March 11, 2013, Clark finished his work up on the machine and attempted to dismount as usual. But this time he slipped, fell to the ground, and landed on his outstretched arm, shattering his elbow. He was taken to the Emergency Department at Carbondale Memorial Hospital; the Hospital recorded that "[a]s he was getting off the bailer [sic] apparently he slipped in some hydraulic fluid." Since the accident, Clark's left arm has been almost completely useless, and he has been in constant pain. He has not been able to work, despite an effort to return to Thornton.

         B

         A little less than two years later, Clark filed a products-liability complaint against River Metals and Sierra in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, Illinois. In it, he alleged that the Crusher was defective and unreasonably dangerous, because it failed to provide an adequate platform, handrails, or other area for performing routine maintenance. (Sierra named several third-party defendants, but the district court dismissed them, and they play no part in this appeal.) River Metals and Sierra removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). After motion practice not relevant here, the district court granted summary judgment for both defendants on the ground that Clark could use only ...


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