LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline) -- The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled last week that a safety consulting firm cannot be held responsible for a rubber company employee's severed fingers.
Appellant James K. Meador was employed by a staffing company and had been contracted to work at Gates Rubber Company when his right hand was caught under the cutting blade of a profiling machine.
Meador's fingers were severed from his dominant hand and he suffered further injury to his arm and shoulder as he tried to pull his hand free.
The core of Meador's case at trial was that appellee Total Compliance Consultants Inc. had contracted with Gates Rubber Company to consult on safety compliance issues and that TCC either breached its contract or was negligent in failing to (1) require a safety guard for the machine that severed his fingers, (2) otherwise make the machine compliant with safety standards, or (3) have the machine taken out of service.
TCC's defense at trial was that it was not responsible for Meador's injuries and that it owed him no duty.
According to the consulting firm, the terms of the contract provided that TCC would make recommendations for safety compliance at Gates Rubber Company, but that TCC had no control over whether it actually implemented any of its recommendations.
The jury returned its verdict, finding on interrogatories that Meador was a third-party beneficiary of the contract between TCC and Gates Rubber Company, but that TCC was not negligent and did not breach its contract.
The Benton County Circuit Court entered a judgment reciting the jury's verdict on interrogatories and ordering that "the Complaint and all subsequent and amended Complaints including but not limited to the Fourth Amended and Substituted Complaint be dismissed with prejudice."
Meador appealed to the state's high court.
On appeal, he contends that the circuit court either erred as a matter of law or abused its discretion in allowing TCC to argue and insinuate the fault of Gates Rubber Company, a nonparty.
Also, Meador contends that, as applied to him, the state's Comparative Fault Statute violates the Arkansas Constitution.
The Court, in its nine-page ruling filed Jan. 31, affirmed the lower court's judgment, noting that Meador did not demonstrate that "error occurred below."
"Although Meador did indeed file a motion in limine challenging the admission of evidence or argument of nonparty fault, the circuit court's ruling did not address the specific constitutional arguments now being raised on appeal," Justice Donald Corbin wrote for the Court.
"Our review of the record reveals that Meador did not object when the empty-chair defense and evidence were being presented and did not obtain a ruling that the circuit court's prior ruling on the motion in limine was being violated. Moreover, Meador himself insinuated the fault of Gates Rubber Company when Meador elicited testimony of the subsequent remedial measure known as a light curtain."
As to Meador's other point on appeal -- that the Comparative Fault Statute is unconstitutional -- the Court said the jury's verdict that TCC was not negligent means that the statute was not applied to Meador's case at all, much less applied to his prejudice.
"Simply put, pursuant to the instructions given, the verdict of no negligence on TCC's part means that the jury did not consider whether Meador was also negligent and therefore did not compare fault," Corbin wrote. "The comparative-fault statute simply was not applied to Meador; therefore, he has suffered no injury and has no standing to bring an as-applied constitutional challenge."
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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