Gray vs. Air Products
Stephen Smith tried this product liability/negligence matter to a defense verdict although a plaintiff's verdict in the amount of $10 was rendered against the co-defendants. Yoka & Smith represented a Netherlands company, Benelux-Apex, which sold a preheater system to Air Products and Chemicals to replace that company's existing system. The new system was composed of twelve cube-shaped units, weighing approximately 40,000 pounds each, to replace the existing six units weighing approximately 88,000 pounds each. The new units were shipped with four lifting brackets, or "lugs," on the top four corners of each unit and each was affixed with five sets of nuts and bolts. Air Products retained The Saxon Group to remove the old preheater units and install the new preheater units. In the course of the operation, Saxon, with the advice and assistance of Air Products, took lifting lugs, and only four sets of nuts and bolts each, from the new units and used two lugs to lift each of the ends of the old units. On the last lift, the nuts and bolts from the lugs stripped and a four by eight foot cribbing block was driven through the leg of one of the crane crew, Daniel Gray. Gray underwent four surgeries, would need two total knee replacements, and was rendered permanently disabled.
It was found after the accident that the nuts and bolts stripped because they were mismatched, the nuts being larger than the bolts. Saxon and Air Products alleged that the nuts and bolts were mismatched at the Benelux factory and that configuration constituted a product defect for which defendant Benelux was liable. Benelux, in turn, contended that the mismatch happened on-site and, even if the mismatch occurred at the factory, the lifting system was safe and appropriate for the new preheater units. Rather, Benelux contended, the accident occurred because Saxon and Air Products, in installing the nuts and bolts, failed to properly inspect the system in order to determine the mismatch.
After a four-week trial, the jury rendered a defense verdict in favor of Benelux and a verdict of $10 million as against Saxon and Air Products.