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Language Barrier an Obstacle to Justice for Worker’s Injuries from Glass-Cutting Machine

An industrial glass-cutting machine at a factory in Oregon had no safeguards in place. Its design, which included tables for lifting, rolling, and cutting large glass panes, was dangerous and deficient from the time it was installed. It was the proverbial accident waiting to happen. A worker at the facility bent down to stretch his legs. When he stood up, his left arm got caught underneath a massive glass-cutting machine. He was pulled up against the huge conveyor, his arm literally wrapping around the mechanical rollers used to push enormous sheets of glass down toward the cutting arms. His bones broke and shattered into a mangled mess that required multiple operations to repair.

He decided to sue the manufacturer of the complicated piece of hardware. However, the company that made the machine was based in Germany. Not only did they not want to take any responsibility, they used the language barrier to evade, deflect, and avoid any implication in the incident.

Enter attorney Randall Wolfe of Lake Oswego, Oregon. A personal injury specialist with decades of experience, Wolfe took the case to the Germans. But it wasn’t easy.

The case was about as complex and complicated as the singular machine at its center. The first problem was the fact that the glass processor was such an esoteric piece of equipment that even those who created it hardly understood it. The intricacies of all its moving parts would be very difficult to communicate to a jury. Wolfe had to make multiple trips to the factory to get a grip on what the machine did and retained an engineer to break down its operation in simple terms that would make sense to a lay audience.

That the Germans stuck to their native tongue added another layer of difficulty. The depositions and the material in discovery — all of the back and forth with the Defense — had to be translated into English. The Germans also lacked an understanding of American jurisprudence, and Wolfe and his team had to educate them at each step along the way, dragging out the process.

The basics of the case were clear enough. Wolfe understood exactly what happened because a camera in the facility recorded the incident. But it took more than two years to convince the Defense why it happened and that the responsibility for the accident belonged to the manufacturer of the machine and no one else — not the employee and not his employer.

By this time, the Plaintiff had largely recovered. Wolfe knew it would be difficult to convince a jury how badly he was injured with him sitting there looking whole. He knew he had to turn the focus back onto the harm the machine did and the agony the Plaintiff lived through the past few years. And he knew just how to do it.

Randall Wolfe turned to DK Global. Wolfe had used illustrations before in complex injury cases, in recreating surgeries, and in collision and accident reconstruction cases to demonstrate what happened on the ground. Impressed with the company’s work, he consulted with DK Global’s experts, and together they formulated a plan.

Wolfe understood that simply putting up x-rays of the factory worker’s arm wasn’t good enough. They were shadowy, two-dimensional, and did a poor job of illustrating the extent of the damage. So, he and DK Global created artistic renderings. Including the x-rays and post-operative photos, the illustrations used colorful drawings that took viewers right through the skin, creating a clear picture of the violence the machine inflicted upon the Plaintiff’s arm. The illustrations were extremely powerful, showing the broken ulnar and radial bones protruding through the skin and the lacerations of the fascia, muscles, and tendons of the left thumb and forearm.

Wolfe found the drawings so dramatic he wasted no time using them. He put them on page one of the demand letter he sent the Defense, a decision that helped resolve the case. After years of stalling, the Defense eventually decided to settle, creating a package that the Plaintiff found favorable. With the help of DK Global’s visuals, Wolfe not only prevailed, but he convinced the German manufacturers that their machine was poorly designed and configured, making the factory safer for future workers.

Randall Wolfe of the Law Office of Randall Wolfe, PC, has been a personal injury attorney for 34 years. In that time, he has handled more than 4,000 injury claims. Based in Lake Oswego, Oregon, he holds licenses to practice in state and federal courts in Oregon and Washington. His specialties include product liability, malpractice, civil rights, auto collisions, trips, and falls. Wolfe is a past President’s Circle Member of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association.

"We're all used to seeing x-rays. We're all used to seeing after the fact photographs. This opened my client's body up so it could be seen, truly, what happened to the internal structures."
Randall Wolfe — The Law Office of Randall J. Wolfe, P.C.
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