Jury: Meat Grinder Was not Defective At All

With protective guard in place, restaurant worker's 'good hand' doesn't fit in machine

Lucia Villanueva v. Tor Rey USA Inc., et al.: Despite hearing graphic details about how a young restaurant worker lost an index finger and thumb while using a meat grinder, a jury in Suffolk County, Mass., has sided with the grinder's maker, which was represented by a Glastonbury attorney.

The jury in the product liability suit ultimately determined that the accident was not the fault of Texas-based Tor Rey USA, which manufactured the meat grinder. A key point in Tor Rey's favor was that a protective guard that would likely have prevented the accident had been removed by workers who wanted to clean the machine.

Defense attorney, of Glastonbury's Raymond Law Group LLC, further proved that the guard did not need to be removed to clean the grinder.

At around 7 a.m. on Feb. 18, 2005, Lucia Villanueva, a 23-year-old single mother originally from El Salvador, was feeding cheese sticks into the meat grinder at Taqueria Tapatio restaurant in Summerville, Mass. Although she had used the grinder before without its protective guard, this time she stuck her hand far enough to sever her index finger and part of her thumb. The thumb was reattached, but it is in permanently bent position and is discolored. The index finger could not be reattached.Villanueva has not worked since the accident.

Her attorney, Michael Rezendes of Rezendes & Trezise in Quincy, Mass., asked the jury for nearly $800,000 for medical costs and lost wages. If Villanueva had won, that amount would almost certainly have been increased to cover pain and suffering, and attorney fees. Rezendes did not return telephone messages last week.

At trial, Villanueva alleged the meat grinder didn't meet electrical and sanitation standards, and that there were sufficient inexpensive alternatives that could have remedied these problems.

The other key moment occurred following a question to the court. A juror asked if Villanueva could fit her "good hand" into the machine with the guard on. After Rezendes's unsuccessful objection, Villanueva tried and failed to fit her hand into the grinder with the guard on. "It was like one of those moments, 'Does the glove fit or not,'" alluding to the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

A Massachusetts distributor of the meat grinder, General Services, which initially was a co-defendant in the lawsuit, settled its case with Villanueva for an undisclosed amount.

—By Christian Nolan