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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Editorial: Negligence, common sense collided in meat grinder lawsuit

  • Could terrible accident have been avoided?


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  •     Frivolous lawsuit.
     
        Come across those two words, and a betting man would probably put down a few bucks on what particular lawsuit is most likely to pop into your mind: The McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit, right?
     
        We remember the hot coffee lawsuit. The coffee Stella Liebeck, 79, purchased from a McDonald’s was hot…scalding hot, and she burned her lap and midsection while trying to add cream. The lawsuit served as the punchline for countless late night TV talk show monologues, most along the line of common sense dictating that a fresh cup of hot coffee purchased from a fast-food restaurant is going to be hot…REALLY hot.
     
        Even though Liebeck was awarded some financial damages, much of the settlement was secret, so no one knows all the details. Maybe more importantly, the suit resulted in a more detailed discussion about what actually constitutes “hot” when referring to a cup of hot coffee from a restaurant. What’s hot enough, and what’s dangerously and unnecessarily hot? After the lawsuit, consumers of coffee from restaurants and convenience stores also noticed more prominent warnings on the cups regarding the hot beverage they’d bought.
     
        Which brings us to Ruth and Nathan?Bornsen from Larimore, N.D. Ruth, 53, is suing Pragotrade, the maker of an electric meat grinder, as well as Cabela’s, since the couple bought the grinder at the East Grand Forks store. She’s suing for at least $150,000 after an incident in 2007 in which Ruth had four of her fingers severed in the grinder while helping her husband grind venison as part of his meat-grinding business in Emerado, N.D.
     
        In various stories in the regional media last week, Ruth admits that she didn’t read the user’s manual. She says she knew how to use the grinder by watching her husband. And the plastic plunger you’re supposed to use to shove meat down the chute to the grinding mechanism? She didn’t use it, she said, because the meat always got stuck on it. So, wearing latex gloves, Ruth shoved some venison down the chute and, according to her, a screw got stuck on the glove on her left hand and pulled it in. That’s when her fingers were cut.
     
        That had to be absolutely nightmarish. Her husband retrieved the fingers, but the lawsuit documents to date don’t indicate if they were successfully reattached. Ruth has undergone numerous surgeries and physical therapy, documents indicate.
     
        So, what are we to make of this lawsuit? In the coffee lawsuit, McDonald’s was found to be 80 percent at fault, with Liebeck sharing the remaining 20 percent of the blame. Somewhere in the middle of Bornsen’s lawsuit has to be a similar debate over where common sense gives way to corporate negligence. Sometimes bad things just happen for no reason, and victims are looking for someone to justify the negative event, usually through money. But, sometimes, things like losing one’s fingers in a meat grinder happen because a plastic plunger isn’t used, and a hand is used to shove meat into a fast-moving, sharp cutting mechanism.
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        There was a warning to keep hands out of the chute, and a diagram of fingers getting caught, on the grinder. But Ruth said the warning wasn’t visible from the point of view of someone operating the grinder. But she had to know that, by not using the plunger, she was not operating the grinder as it was meant to be operated.
     
        Given that, it seems at least slightly reasonable that Pragograde countered by saying negligence led to the accident.
     
        Hey, it’s a bad deal. It had to be a horrific thing for Ruth and her husband to experience. But, it would seem to be a horrific experience that could have been avoided.
     

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