Lawsuit filed regarding Teresa Pontious death 4.22.09

Written by David Green.

A lawsuit was filed in federal district court last week in connection with the accidental death of a Morenci woman. The complaint is based in part on an inspection of the incident by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Roger Pontious of Morenci is seeking more than $20 million in damages plus punitive damages from the death of his wife, Teresa, in an industrial accident March 10 at Kamco Industries in West Unity, Ohio.

The suit faults Kamco, parent company Kumi Kasei, Ltd., of Japan and a third company responsible for the installation of equipment. Teresa Pontious was operating a Kumi Sheet Stamping fabric-resin molding system (KSS) on the night she died. The equipment produces three-dimensional trunk compartment linings for automobiles.

The suit alleges that Pontious and other KSS operators frequently expressed concerns about the safety of the equipment, including the failure of a light curtain safety mechanism. Complaints were lodged with supervisors and on an employee comment board.

Despite the volume of complaints, the suit states employees were directed to enter the trimming/cutting area of the KSS to retrieve scrap or adjust parts.

According to the suit, Pontious reached into the trim area on the night of her death. Another employee inadvertently activated the equipment and Pontious was killed.

The light curtain is described as a safety device that creates a light beam across the entrance to the trim area of the press. When the beam of light is broken—such as when an operator passes through it—operation of the equipment is disabled.

The suit alleges that the light curtain was positioned 44 inches from the point of operation “easily permitting the worker to be within the zone of danger.” To enter the trim area, a worker would be closer than 44 inches and no longer break the beam of light.

Had the safety equipment operated correctly, the suit alleges, Pontious would not have died. Kumi Kasei is faulted with failing to design the equipment for safe operation.

It’s also charged that instructions and guidelines for operation of the KSS were available only in Japanese.

Roger Pontious is seeking $10 million in wrongful death damages for harm to surviving family members and $10 million in a survivors claim due to the pain and suffering of the deceased during the accident.

In addition, punitive damages equal to one year’s profits from each of the three corporations are also sought. The suit claims the defendants profited from their “reckless and willful disregard for the safety of workers and operators.”

Pontious is represented by the law firm of Zoll, Kranz and Borgess of Toledo and seeks a trial by jury.

Following the accident, an inspection by OSHA resulted in fines totaling $8,625 for four safety violations labeled as “serious,” meaning there is “substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.”

The agency faulted Kamco for lack of training in use of the equipment energy control features; failure to ensure that operators of the equipment disconnected power sources prior to making adjustments; failure to ensure that employees applied lockout devices prior to making adjustments; failure to provide a front guard on a foot pedal used to activate the press; and locating the light curtain 44 inches from the point of operation, exposing employees to injury when performing work between the light curtain and the point of operation.

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