Spa Treatment Device Shatters and Injures Esthetician

Synopsis

On December 10, 2009, plaintiff Michelle, 41, was injured while handling the components of the high frequency function of a multi-function spa treatment device called a Combo Quintet Unit. The high frequency function of the device involves the use of a high frequency handle and a glass high frequency electrode that is to be inserted into the handle.

Michelle, a licensed esthetician, was holding a high frequency electrode like a pencil as she inserted it into its handle when the electrode unexpectedly shattered. The broken glass severely cut her at the base of her right index finger, ultimately severing her radial digital nerve.

Silhouet-Tone, the manufacturer of the Combo Quintet Unit, designed the device to require the user to use his or her bare hand to apply force to insert the glass high frequency electrode into the high frequency handle. Michelle alleged claims of design defect, warning defect, and negligence against the manufacturer of the spa treatment device.

Plaintiff Allegations

Plaintiff contended that the device was defectively designed because it exposed users to avoidable risks of harm related to the glass electrode breaking in the user's hand, particularly when inserting the electrode into its handle with the required insertion force. There are safer alternative designs that would require no force to insert the glass high frequency electrode into its handle to avoid the shattering of the electrode during insertion. Plaintiff also alleged that Silhouet-Tone's instructions and warnings regarding how to insert the high frequency electrode and the dangers associated with handling the device were inadequate. Silhouet-Tone's instructions provided that the user should never push in the electrode with the palm and that the user should hold the electrode by the thumb and index finger during insertion.

Plaintiff contended that the manufacturer failed to warn regarding the risk and associated dangers of the high frequency electrode cracking, shattering, or degrading upon repeated or regular use; the circumstances under which the high frequency electrode should be replaced; the need to inspect the high frequency electrodes for damage; the proper storage and handling of the electrode when not in use; and the use of a glove when inserting the electrode into the high frequency handle to protect against injury in case of glass shattering.

Defendant Allegations

Silhouet-Tone claimed that Michelle was not following the directions in the product's instruction manual when she was injured. Silhouet-Tone disputed Michelle's future medical expenses, lost earnings, and household services.

Injuries/Damages

In December 2009, Michelle underwent a surgery to repair the severed nerve in her finger and to remove a neuroma. In April 2010, Michelle was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome ("CRPS") which affects the area of her right dominant hand along the base of her middle finger, through the base of her thumb, and continuing towards her wrist. She also developed a right index finger contracture (also known as a "trigger finger") in which her finger remains in a permanent flexed position. Her medical treatment has primarily involved stellate ganglion blocks and pain medication.

Michelle has reached stage three of CRPS where the condition has become a permanent condition and is impossible to cure. The pain coupled with the finger contracture of her dominant hand have substantially reduced her ability to use her right upper extremity for both one-handed and two-handed activities. Michelle is now required to rely on assistance from others for certain activities and to modify several household activities and activities of daily living, which has resulted in left upper extremity overuse syndrome. Michelle's future medical care is expected to include ongoing stellate ganglion blocks or a spinal cord stimulator, pain medication, and physical therapy. Michelle claimed that she would not be employable in the future due to her pain and injuries.

Result

Michelle claimed damages of past medical expenses of $121,000, future medical expenses of $1,510,362 to $1,959,555, past loss of household services of $115,000, and future loss of household services of $1,062,466. Past and future lost earnings of up to $1,633,926 were also demanded. The plaintiff also sought damages for pain and suffering. The case settled before trial in the amount of $4,753,000.