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$800,000 Settlement for Factory Job-Related Injuries

MIDDLESEX COUNTY: A woman has received an $800,000 settlement for injuries she suffered at work when part of her scalp was ripped off because her hair got caught in the gears of a conveyor belt at a Cranbury Plant, her attorney said.

Nina Patel, 53, of North Brunswick settled her case against the installers of the belt and the electrician who installed the shut-off switch, said Barry Eichen of Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP.

Patel packed teddy bears at Russ Berrie and Company Inc., he said. She put them on a gravity conveyor belt, then pushed them over to a motorized belt. But on August 23, 1999, the boxes started to pile up and her supervisor asked her to go under the conveyor belt and turn it of using a shut-off switch, said Eichen.

He said guards underneath the belt had been removed by maintenance workers and were never re-installed.

So, when she went underneath the belt, her hair got caught in the gears and part of her scalp was ripped off, said Eichen, adding that Patel had to have a skin graft because of her injuries.

Eichen also said Patel could have shut the belt off by pulling a line cord, instead of crawling under belt, but that line cord would have stopped the entire system, and her supervisor just wanted a portion of the belt turned off.

Eichen said he initially filed suit against Russ Berrie as well, but the court dismissed that portion, citing workman’s compensation rules.

The settlement was reached on Tuesday just before jury selection began before Judge Bryan Garruto in state Superior Court, New Brunswick. Eichen said he planned to argue that the installer, W.S. Marshall Inc. in Cliffwood, and the electrician, Access Electric in Perth Amboy, should not have put the shut off button underneath the belt. But James D. Butler, the Jersey City based attorney who represented Access said his client, as well as W. S. Marshall, planned to argue that they were not responsible for the accident.

He said the decision to settle the case was a business decision.

“We maintained all along, and also maintained, at the time of the settlement, there was no culpability, but unfortunately the cost of litigation is so high that it was (an) economic (decision),” he said.

Access agreed to pay $75,000 of the settlement, while W.S. Marshall agreed to pay the rest.

By Michelle Sahn