A Reading woman has settled her law suit against a German baking equipment manufacturer relating to a concussion she sustained while cleaning a commercial dough mixer at a Berks County bake goods plant. The woman claimed that the mixer was defectively designed for safe cleaning operations. The law suit alleged that the mixer’s extrusion lever, which had to be lifted and propped up for cleaning, should have had a catch to prevent it from falling due to the inevitable shaking and vibration caused by the cleaning process. According to the Complaint, the lack of a catch created an unreasonable risk of operator injury.
The plaintiff was represented by Christopher Culleton of the Swartz Culleton law firm. The law suit settled following a two year investigation of the mixer design process and extensive litigation on the identity and responsible of the original product manufacturer’s successor-in-interest.
“The difficulty with the case,” according to Mr. Culleton, “was not proving that the machine lacked the necessary safety features; rather, the problem was that the company that made and sold the mixer had filed for bankruptcy in the late 1990s and no longer existed.” Through researching US and German corporate and legal filings, the plaintiff’s lawyers were able to identify a German company that had purchased from a bankruptcy trustee some of the mixer manufacturer’s original production equipment, customer lists and intellectual property. “We started suit against that company and served process in Germany using the Hague Convention,” said Culleton.
The case resolved following testimony by representatives of the German company concerning the assets it had acquired. Under Pennsylvania law, a company may be considered responsible for the products made by a previously existing company if it acquires its assets and uses them to “continue the product line.” The plaintiff’s lawyers solicited testimony that the German company employed its acquired assets to mke baking equipment similar to the mixer involved in the plaintiff’s accident. It also used the brands of its predecessor. In advertising in Germany, the company had boasted that its equipment continued the long history and traditions and high standards of its predecessor. The case settled for $150,000.