The Sun Sentinel—November 19, 1995
Man who lost arm in wood chipper wins $8.1 million
Alan Douglas Barnes was part of a Plantation work crew chipping tree branches in 1988. He placed a bundle into the machine when his glove got caught on a branch. The machine caught his hand and pulled it in.
Alan Douglas Barnes lost his right arm in a tree chipper eight years ago. Now the companies that built and sold the machine will have to pay for it.
A Broward circuit jury on Tuesday awarded Barnes $8.1 million for the accident, which left Barnes with only inches of his arm.
"My client did nothing wrong but show up for work, and he paid the price," said Jon Krupnick, who represented Barnes in the eight-week trial before Judge Arthur Franza at the satellite courthouse in Hollywood. Franza is retired but still handles some lengthy civil cases.
Barnes sued the manufacturer of the machine, Michigan-based Foremost Fabrications, as well as Asplundh, the company that sold the machine to the city of Plantation. The jury found Foremost 40 percent at fault and Asplundh, based in Philadelphia, liable for the rest of the award.
According to the lawsuit, Barnes, 29, started with the city of Plantation in 1988. He had been with the city for seven months, when on July 21, 1988, he was part of a city work crew chipping tree branches. He placed a bundle into the machine when his glove got caught on a branch. The machine, which has a blade moving at 100 mph, caught Barnes' hand and pulled it in. A co-worker quickly shut of the machine, but Barnes had already lost his arm.
"He couldn't even take pain medication because he lost too much blood," Krupnick said. "He was conscious the whole time."
Barnes, a Hollywood resident, still works for Plantation as a sidewalk inspector.
Foremost Fabrications sold the machine to Asplundh, which affixed its name to the machine and sold it in 1986 to Plantation for $14,000.
The problem, according to Krupnick, was that the machine had a 20-inch feeder chute leading to the chipper blades. Twenty inches is less than the length of a human arm, the lawyer said.
Shortly after Plantation bought the machine, a worker in Chicago lost his hand in an accident similar to Barnes'.
Foremost then manufactured a 15-inch extension for its machines, but only for newly built models. The company sent letters offering the extension for $140 for older machines.
"They sent out the letters in a public-relations form rather than a recall letter informing people that the machines were dangerous," Krupnick said. "Plantation, like 87 percent of the buyers, never responded to the letter."
Asplundh has manufactured a similar machine since 1949, and had two accidents in 40 years, Krupnick said. The newer machine had five accidents in three years. Asplundh should have known a machine with a shorter chute was dangerous, he said.
"The company had a history of safety, but ignored that when they put their name on the other machine," Krupnick said. "It wasn't a question of if someone would get hurt, but who was the next person in line."
Krupnick said he expects Asplundh and Foremost to appeal, which means it could be years before Barnes receives any money.
Attorneys for Foremost and Asplundh could not be reached for comment.