Death of 29-year-old in chocolate vat leads to wrongful death suit

By Jon Campisi | Jul 5, 2011

The parents of a 29-year-old man who died after falling into a chocolate-mixing vat at his place of employment is suing the company where he worked and others involved in the chocolate making operation.

Philadelphia attorney Thomas R. Kline, of the city firm Kline & Specter, filed the personal injury lawsuit July 1 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on behalf of New Jersey resident Vincent J. Smith, Sr. and Pennsylvania resident Debra J. Hoffman.

The couple brought the lawsuit on behalf of their deceased son, Vincent J. Smith, Jr., who, according to the lawsuit died July 8, 2009, while working at a chocolate pressing facility at 701 N. 36th St. in Camden, N.J. owned by defendant Lyons & Sons, Inc., which has an office on Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia and on Lenola Road in Moorestown, N.J.

The lawsuit claims that the chocolate pressing facility in Camden was operating illegally because it allegedly had no mercantile license.

According to the complaint, Vincent Smith, Jr., who had been working at the facility for two weeks, was assigned to place raw chocolate into a vat for the chocolate to be melted, mixed or processed at extremely high temperatures.

Smith was standing on a platform that surrounded the vat, but which was unguarded and had no “measures to prevent individuals from falling through,” when he suddenly fell through the unguarded holes in the platform and descended into the vat, which was in the process of mixing and melting chocolate at the time, the lawsuit states.

A co-worker attempted to quickly shut down the device at the time Smith fell into the vat, but to no avail, the suit states, since the shut-off mechanism was not located on the platform, but rather at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the platform.

When Smith fell into the vat he was scalded by the extremely hot temperatures, and he was struck by the mixers operated inside the device, the suit claims. He was pronounced dead that day.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of negligence, carelessness, recklessness and defective design.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are Weld-Done Welding, Inc. of Sewell, N.J., Cocoa Services, Inc. of Moorestown, N.J., Bittong Consulting, Inc., and its proprietor, Karlheinz Bittong, of Orlando, FL, The Blommer Chocolate Company and the Blommer Machinery Company of Chicago, IL, Lyons & Sons, Inc. of Moorestown, N.J., WM A. Schmidt and Sons of Chester, Pa., Was Realty, Inc. of Chester, Pa., and The McCarter Corporation of Norristown, Pa.

The plaintiffs demand judgment against each named defendant, jointly and severally, in a sum in excess of $50,000 for compensatory and punitive damages, for each of the 19 counts listed in the lawsuit, which include wrongful death and survival claims.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The case number is 110700001.

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