Safety and OSHA News

Husband sues 5 companies after factory robot kills his wife

The head injuries his wife received were so severe, a funeral director suggested a closed casket. Now the husband wants answers so that this sort of tragedy involving a factory robot doesn’t happen again. 

On July 7, 2015, Wanda Holbrook, 57, was working at Ventra, an auto parts factory, in Ionia, MI. Holbrook specialized in fixing the robots used in the factory. She’d worked there 12 years.

On that day, a robot’s arm malfunctioned, hitting and crushing Holbrook’s head, killing her.

She was found, unresponsive, by co-workers. She was pronounced dead at the scene about 40 minutes after the incident.

Now her husband, Bill Holbrook, has sued five companies that designed, built, tested and monitored the robots for wrongful death. Ventra isn’t part of the lawsuit. However, Bill’s attorney says there is a dispute regarding a workers’ comp claim with Ventra because the family has been denied benefits.

The lawsuit says the robot shouldn’t have entered the section where Wanda was working. It claims a safety system failure must have happened.

“I want to make sure nothing like this happens to another family,” Bill Holbrook told the Detroit Free Press. “If it’s an accident, it’s an accident. If it’s preventable, I want it to be prevented.”

In January 2016, Michigan OSHA (MIOSHA) issued one $7,000 serious violation to Ventra. Inspectors said a lockout device could have halted the machine when it entered Wanda’s section and prevented her injury and death.

MIOSHA dismissed the violation in October 2016, according to government records.

Bill Holbrook’s lawyer says they were denied access to the facility to investigate, and that helped prompt their lawsuit.

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