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Defective Exercise Machine Crushes Hand

Jury verdict in favor of injured woman.

The Defective Machine

An exercise machine at a fitness center inflicted serious and permanent crush injuries to a local woman’s dominant hand.  The exercise machine, a “45 Degree Lever Row” or “Towbar Rowing” machine, had a long metal bar with handles on the sides, and a place for weights to be added on at the end.  The metal bar was connected at one end and was designed to go up and down.

On this particular machine, the long metal bar rested on one of two short posts above the ground, with neither post having a flange or “keeper” or similar feature to keep the weighted long metal bar in place.  Based on our pretrial investigation, it appeared that the manufacturer had done a “knock off” design based on another company’s model, but failed to include a keeper feature to keep the bar in place. As a result, the manufacturer knew that the bar fell off.  Despite that, the manufacturer neither corrected the problem nor provided adequate warnings. During the litigation process, we learned that the manufacturer had made another 45 degree lever row machine that had a metal flange to keep the weight bar from falling, so it was capable of making a safer machine.

The Injury Incident

On the day the local woman was injured, the machine had been left close to another piece of equipment at the fitness center.  While she was moving the machine so she could use it, the long metal bar fell off the short post and crushed the long, ring, index, and little fingers of her right hand.  She underwent multiple surgical procedures, including open reduction and internal fixation of finger bone fractures, involving insertion of metal pins and a metal plate, and reconstructive surgery to the arteries.

The Trial

At trial, we showed that the product’s design could have been made safe at minimal cost without adversely affecting its utility.  The jury could see that the product defects were egregious because very simple changes would have alleviated the risks. Although we presented additional evidence, the jury was able to readily determine the existence of feasible and safer alternatives from the product itself.  We also showed that given the way the product was designed, adequate warning and instructions should have been provided.

Oregon’s strict product liability law imputes to a manufacturer knowledge of the harmful character of its product.   The manufacturer is presumed to know the harmful characteristics of the products it makes and supplies. In Oregon, a product is unreasonably dangerous when it is dangerous to an extent beyond which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases the product with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to its characteristics.

In the trial, the manufacturer blamed the woman.  However, in Oregon, a person’s unobservant, inattentive, ignorant, or awkward failure to discover or to guard against the defect that goes toward making the product dangerously defective in the first place is not a valid defense.

The jury decided the case in favor of the injured woman, and returned a verdict in her favor.

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