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Marivel Santos was employed by Crenshaw Manufacturing, Inc. in January 2017 as a machine operator. She was instructed by her supervisor, Jose Flores, to operate a material-forming machine utilizing a die without any protective guards or cages.

Ordinarily, Santos would have had to use both hands to operate the machine. This time, however, Flores instructed her to operate it “from the side using a bypass button.” Using the machine in this manner allowed Santos to operate the machine with her right hand, leaving her left hand free to reach into the machine to “press down the part” being cut.

On January 12, 2017, Santos was operating the machine in this fashion when her left hand was crushed underneath the die, mutilating and severely injuring it. She filed a workers’ compensation claim against Crenshaw.

She also filed a civil action for a sole cause of action against Crenshaw for violation of Labor Code 4558, which allows an action against the employer where the injury is caused by the removal of, or knowing failure to install, a point of operation guard on a power press, known as the “power press” exception to the exclusive remedy of worker’s compensation.

The machine in this case was an A3 gap frame press, manufactured in or around 1937 by Niagara Machine & Tool Works. Crenshaw purchased two Niagara A3 gap frame presses, along with other equipment, in late 2013 as part of an asset purchase from another business.

Crenshaw filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting Santos failed to meet the requirements of the power press exception, and argued that Niagara had never designed, provided, installed, or specified any particular guard or barrier to be used with the machine in any given context.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. However the Court of Appeal reversed in the unpublished case of Santos v Crenshaw Manufacturing.

A provision in section 4558 provides that “No liability shall arise under [section 4558] absent proof that the manufacturer designed, installed, required, or otherwise provided by specification for the attachment of the guards and conveyed knowledge of the same to the employer. Proof of conveyance of this information to the employer by the manufacturer may come from any source.”

Crenshaw argues that section 4558 requires a manufacturer to convey specific  information – in other words, to identify a particular point of operation guard.

However, the Court of Appeal noted that the case law has only established that a high degree of specificity in the manufacturer’s safety directives will suffice under section 4558. But not what is the lowest degree of specificity that would suffice?

When a defendant moves for summary judgment, ‘its declarations and evidence must either establish a complete defense to plaintiff’s action or demonstrate the absence of an essential element of plaintiff’s case. Here this standard was not met, and the summary judgment was reversed.