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Our client worked as a helper in a stone quarry. As part of his duties to extract stone from the earth, he was required to enter and exit a 36 inch diameter core hole of varying depths by riding on a cable attached to a winch on the back of a truck. The winch and truck was a creation of the employer as was the method of entering and exiting the core hole.
To get out of the core hole, our client was required to ride up on the winch cable by putting his feet on the chain and holding the cable with his gloved hand. As he exited the hole, the winch operator tried to stop the winch so our client could get off but the mechanism failed and our client’s hands were caught in the unguarded sheave at the top of the winch. This led to the amputation of most of his fingers on both hands.
A management employee conceded in deposition that he knew prior to this incident that the winch did not meet any of the safety requirements of a man-lift. It was also discovered that the failure of the winch was the result of low air operating pressure due to several leaks in the air system. It was alleged that these leaks were brought to the attention of a foreman who did not take the truck out of service until the leaks were repaired.
The employer argued that our client’s failure to let go and step off the winch cable as he exited the core hole was the cause of his injuries. However, testing demonstrated that the winch operated at 0.8 feet per second; the top of the winch was only 7 feet off the ground; and perception/reaction time of 1.5 seconds allowed the cable to move 1.2 feet before our client realized that the winch was not stopping. In other words, there was insufficient time and space for our client to avoid being hurt.