Michigan Woman’s Wrongful Death Blamed on Work Robot
Automation is a continually growing presence in our lives. It’s already made our lives significantly easier and more efficient in many ways and it’s only going to become a more important part of our lives. However, with that increasing presence, it’s crucial that proper steps are taken to ensure that people aren’t harmed by this technology.
Wanda Holbrook was working at Ventra Ionia Main in Ionia, Michigan as a maintenance technician. Ventra manufactures automotive parts like trailer hitches and bumpers and Holbrook’s job duties included monitoring and adjusting assembly line processes and maintaining the robots in the facility. On July 7, 2015, Holbrook entered a section of the plant where robots are kept so she could inspect the machinery. While she was working in the 140 section of the plant, a robot from the 130 section unexpectedly entered the area she was working in. The robot crushed her head by attempting to put a hitch assembly onto another fixture, which was near the area where she was working.
Holbrook’s body was discovered by some of her coworkers who came to the area when they noticed things weren’t operating as they should have been. When medical assistance arrived, Holbrook was declared dead at the scene. Although these sections of the plant are separated by safety doors, the robot from the 130 section still somehow managed to enter the area where Holbrook was working.
Holbrook’s widow, William Holbrook, has filed a federal lawsuit against several defendants. FANUC America Corp., Nachi Robotic Systems, and Lincoln Electric Company were named in the lawsuit as the manufacturers of the robots and its components. Prodomax Automation and Flex-N-Gate LLC were also named in the lawsuit as they manufactured, installed, and maintained the doors which were supposed to prevent the robots from moving between sections.
In the the lawsuit, William Holbrook states, “The robot from section 130 should have never entered section 140, and should have never attempted to load a hitch assembly within a fixture that was already loaded with a hitch assembly…A failure of one or more of the defendants’ safety systems had taken place, causing Wanda’s death.” An investigation found that the work robot which killed Wanda Holbrook failed to meet standards set forth by OSHA, MIOSHA, the American Welding Society, the Robotic Industries Association, and the American National Standard.
William Holbrook’s wrongful death lawsuit is seeking $75,000 in damages. Notably, Ventra is not cited as one of the plaintiffs in his lawsuit despite the fact that they were fined $7,000 for lack of a lockout device which could have stopped the machines. Instead, Holbrook’s lawsuit is being treated as a defective product case.