Federal judge rules Italian co. liable in Pa. man’s ‘degloving’ workplace injury

By Jon Campisi | Mar 19, 2013

In a gruesome workplace injury case befitting a horror film script, a federal judge has

In a gruesome workplace injury case befitting a horror film script, a federal judge has

partially ruled in favor of a plaintiff who suffered a “degloving” injury more than a decade ago when his hand was caught in the rollers of a smoothing and drying machine.

U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled on March 12 that Rizzi 1857 S.P.A., an Italian manufacturing company, is liable for the horrifying injuries caused to Gil Grove.

Grove was at work in Reading, Pa. at Garden State Tanning Inc. on Aug. 7, 2002, when, while operating the smoothing and drying machine at the leather company, his left hand became caught in the contraption, which caused the skin to be torn clean off of his hand.

Some of Grove’s fingers were also partially amputated during the workplace incident.

Following what the court called a “gruesome injury,” Grove had to undergo numerous surgeries, physical therapy and other medical treatments, and he claimed he had sustained permanent disfigurement, an inability to work, and experienced lost earning capacity and pain and suffering.

After filing suit against the manufacturing company, Grove faced numerous delays and difficulties pursuing his claims, namely by learning that Rizzi had voluntarily liquidated itself under Italian law and deciding to forgo having counsel represent it in this matter, according to the judge’s memorandum.

The District Court eventually granted Rizzi’s legal counsel’s motion to withdraw from the case, a request relating to the company’s closure.

Pratter’s memorandum states that Rizzi has continually failed to defend itself in this case since 2006, and that it neglected to send a representative to a May 2007 scheduled status conference.

The defendant has also repeatedly ignored the court’s order to obtain new legal counsel, Pratter wrote.

If Rizzi failed to obtain a lawyer, Pratter wrote, the court would consider entering default judgment against the defendant.

That default was entered on March 25, 2008, the record shows, although the case was subsequently stayed to determine how Rizzi’s apparent bankruptcy, or the equivalent status under Italian law, might affect the litigation playing out in the States.

The court lifted the stay, however, in late May of last year after Grove’s lawyer submitted to the court a series of status reports, including one noting that Rizzi had failed to file a petition for recognition of its Italian bankruptcy, the record shows.

Grove then moved for default judgment.

In her memorandum, Pratter wrote that Grove was correct in his assertion that he has suffered prejudice because he cannot recover damages against Rizzi even as its assets are being liquidated.

“Considerable delays already have impacted this litigation, and it appears that these delays will ‘stretch on indefinitely,’” the judge wrote. “Therefore, the prejudice factor … weighs in favor of default judgment.”

Pratter also wrote that she had to consider in this case whether the defendant has any meritorious defenses, which is a defense, if established at trial, that would completely bar the plaintiff’s recovery.

The judge went through each of Grove’s claims with respect to this factor. The claims listed in his lawsuit were strict product liability, breach of warranty and negligence.

Pratter wrote that Rizzi failed to demonstrate a meritorious defense in each of the three aforementioned counts.

Futhermore, the judge determined that Rizzi’s affirmative defenses were also not meritorious, because the defendant has failed to set forth the type of “specific facts” needed to show why any of those defenses might be valid.

The third factor to consider when weighing the propriety of a default judgment, Pratter wrote, is a defendant’s culpable conduct. In this case, while Rizzi eventually answered Grove’s complaint, it had gone years without actively defending itself in this action, and ignored numerous court orders, conduct that qualifies as culpable and weighs in favor of granting default judgment.

While Pratter ruled in favor of the plaintiff with regard to liability, the judge did not reach the same conclusion with regard to damages, writing that Grove’s seeking recovery for past and future pain and suffering is the type of damages that requires a jury’s determination.

As such, Pratter denied Grove’s motion for default judgment whereas damages are concerned.

The judge set May 13 as the day when a jury trial on damages will take place in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The trial is to conclude no later than May 14.

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