Risky Business: Grinder reminder
05/31/2013

A customer was clearing an area on a job site and had cut down some trees. He needed a stump grinder to finish the job, so he went to his local rental store.

The counter person at the rental store asked the man if he had ever used a stump grinder before. The customer indicated he had not, so the employee explained the operation of the machine and then demonstrated completely how to use the stump grinder. The employee tested the safety switch and showed the customer how it worked. The stump grinder was loaded onto the customer’s truck and he went on his way.

A couple of days later, the owner of the construction company where the customer worked came into the store to return the stump grinder. He said that one set of teeth had broken off of the stump grinder. He indicated that the bolts were cleanly snapped and that pieces of the broken machine had struck his employee in the leg. The man had a broken leg and was at the hospital. The owner of the construction company stated at that time that he did not believe it was the fault of the rental store and he had worker’s compensation to cover the man’s injury.

The stump grinder was unloaded from the customer’s truck and put in an isolated area since an employee of a customer was injured.

The incident was reported to the rental store’s insurance company just a few days later. The insurance company instructed the rental store to keep the stump grinder in isolation until the investigation into the accident was complete.

A month later, the injured man was represented by an attorney and a lawsuit was filed against both the rental store and the  manufacturer within five months. The manufacturer felt the rental store owed the majority of the claim since they had changed the teeth on the stump grinder. The rental store stated it was not at fault since it used replacement teeth and bolts provided by the manufacturer. The bolts sheared off and did not come loose, which would seem to indicate part failure.

The wording in the suit alleged that the stump grinder contained one or more of the following design defects, which rendered it not reasonably safe for its intended use:

  • Said machine was equipped with bolts, which affixed the stump cutter teeth to the wheel, which were defective.
  • Said machine failed to properly guard the point of operation.
  • Said machine was otherwise unreasonable dangerous, defective and unsafe for its intended and foreseeable use.

The suit went on to say that as a direct and proximate result of one or more of the foregoing conditions, while the plaintiff was operating said machine, a bolt failed and a stump cutter tooth or bolt was propelled into his leg striking his leg between the ankle and the knee.

An expert was hired to look at the stump grinder and determine what happened to cause the injury to the man. The expert found fault with the rental store’s maintenance of the stump grinder. The teeth were fractured and threaded, signifying they were not properly tightened. The expert also found irregular imprinting on holes where screws were inserted, which might indicate they were forced in incorrectly and rattled during use. One guard was missing and the one in place was defective. All of these items should have been noticed during regular maintenance of the machine.

The end result was the rental store’s insurance company paid a mid-five figure settlement and the manufacturer paid about 10 percent of that total.

Regular maintenance can prevent many accidents from happening. Be sure you are regularly maintaining your equipment and retaining the maintenance records.

Mary Ann Gormly, CERP, is a loss analyst for ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580 or visit ARAinsure.com.