Mobile Register

'Shocked' maker of meat saw will appeal jury's verdict

A Mobile butcher who claims a defective meat saw cut his arm and hand has won more than $23 million in a verdict against its maker.

Charles Bowman, 56, said he hasn't thought about how he'll spend the money.

"I'll probably be going back to my normal job at Delchamps," he said Thursday.

Following a seven-day Mobile County Circuit Court jury trial, Bowman was awarded $645, 784 in compensatory damages and $22,750,000 in punitive damages against Hobart Corp. late Wednesday.

"We're shocked by the verdict," said Tom Rogers, vice president and general counsel of Hobart Corp., based in Troy, Ohio.

Rogers said the company, which makes a broad line of commercial food equipment for restaurant and supermarkets, strongly believes the verdict wasn't supported by the evidence and plans an appeal.

Alabama doesn't have a cap on high jury awards.

Bowman said he was working in the meat department at the Delchamps Food Store in Tillman's Corner on July 27, 1989, when his right hand was cut as he attempted to slice a piece of meat on a slanted cutting saw.

He filed suit after being hospitalized for surgery, claiming the saw was dangerous and defective.

Buddy Brown, one of Bowman's attorneys, said the butcher "has a significant disability to his wrist" but that wasn't the reason for the amount of the verdict.

"The key is literally dozens of other meat cutters had been injured in the last 12 years. Hobart would pay someone for an amputated finger or thumb and managed to keep the lid on the problem. It was time for them to stop," Browning said.

He said Bowman, a meat market manager, "lost better than a fourth of the use of his right hand, which resulted in a whole person disability of nearly 20 percent."

"The jury conceded this saw never should have been placed on the market in the first place," he said.

During the trial, jurors heard testimony about the saw's reported dangers from about 20 injured meat cutters and experts involved in litigation against Hobart since the saw first came out.

Jay H. McDonald, vice president and chief legal officer for Delchamps, testified the company bought 85 saws in the mid-1980s.

"After Bowman was injured, Delchamps began an investigation into the propensities of the saw and made a decision to limit the saw to boneless cuts of meats," Browning said.

"They (the saws) are goners. They have made a demand on Hobart to put in new saws at no expense to Delchamps, " Bowman's attorney said.

Bowman said he had contacted a Hobart employee and asked him to check the saw to ensure its safety before the accident.

Bowman, who has worked for Delchamps for 36 years, is on vacation from his job in the meat market at the supermarket on Schillinger Road. He said he plans to return to work after attending Alabama National Guard summer camp for three weeks.

The make of meat saw he sued over has hurt other people in other states, according to Bowman.

"The blade comes down to where it cuts the meat," Bowman said. "It catches meat, jerks, rolls and tumbles it. It's defective. They knew it and continued to build and design them."

As a result of Bowman's case, Delchamps has put restrictions on use of the Hobart saw in its stores.

"We are in negotiation with Hobart as to what should be done with the saws," George Waldron, vice president of Delchamps marketing and corporate relations, said Thursday.

Waldron said Delchamps Supermarkets wasn't involved in the case between Bowman and Hobart.

Waldron said the Hobart saw isn't the main met-cutting saw in the grocery chain's meat departments. He said the stores also use another meat saw that performs the same functions.

Lawyers Involved: