When a child is injured by a paper shredder, a lawsuit is usually filed by the child’s parents or guardian to recover compensation for the pain and suffering, disfigurement, and permanent impairment suffered by the child.  There are numerous theories that can be pursued in such lawsuits.  Most frequently, claims are brought against the manufacturer or retailer of the paper shredder, on the theory that the shredder could have been designed in such a way that the injury could have been prevented, or on the theory that the warnings accompanying the shredder could have been more effective in alerting the consumer to the extreme hazard to children.  Other claims that may exist include a claim against the owner of the home or office where the injury occurred.  Finally, in some instances, claims may be brought against the adults who were supposed to be supervising the child at the time the accident occurred.

Manufacturer and Retailer Claims:

These types of product liability lawsuits have been increasingly successful.  Decades ago, most paper shredders were designed for use in workplace environments, often in a part of the office where other potentially hazardous equipment (paper cutters, binding machines, etc.) were in use.  The shredders were used for high volumes of paper, and the noise and obvious destructive nature of the machines made it clear that the shredders were dangerous.  Few warnings were necessary in that environment, and the machines could be designed with standard industrial guards that kept fingers and hands far away from the cutting mechanisms.

In more recent times, the use and location of paper shredders has changed.  Manufacturers have made smaller, quieter, self-contained shredders that are suitable for use at individual workstations in the office.  With these machines, sensitive documents could be fed into the machines as they were discarded, dispensing with the need for large paper-feed openings.  These smaller machines were certainly viewed as less hazardous.  Manufacturers further exploited this trend by designing and selling paper shredders for use in the home.  They capitalized on growing public concerns over identity theft, and paper shredders were marketed as a tool to protect personal financial records that had previously been placed in the trash without shredding.  This smaller, lighter home paper shredders seemed completely harmless.

Once the use of shredders became widespread in people’s homes, it was readily apparent that the manufacturers had not designed the shredders to account for newfound “users” that were present in the residential setting:  children and pets.  The paper-feed openings were too large, and children’s fingers could slip into the shredder.  In their effort to make the machines more and more compact, the designers had also placed the blades to close to the paper-feed openings, allowing a finger or a pet’s tongue to come in contact with the blades.  Finally, in an effort to make the shredders lighter and cheaper to make, the designers made the paper-feed opening out of flexible plastics that could actually expand and allow a finger to enter the machine, even though the finger appeared much too big to be pulled into the danger zone.

These design defects have led to many successful lawsuits involving product liability claims.

Claims against the owner of the home or office:

In some instances, claims have also been brought against the owner of the home or the office were the shredder was located.  The law recognizes that property owners must keep their property safe for the people who visit that property.  When a property owner allows a paper shredder to be present on the property, especially when the shredder is unattended and accessible by children, the owner could be liable for the damages caused by the paper shredder.

The success of these claims will depend on several variables, including:  (a) whether the owner was aware of the potential dangers of the shredder; (b) whether the owner was aware that children would visit the property; and (c) what the relationship was between the child, the child’s parents, and the owner.  In some states, certain property owners (like the child’s parents) may be exempt from liability under the parental immunity doctrine.

One such lawsuit against a property owner went to trial in the Southern District of Iowa, when a three-year-old accompanied a parent to other parent’s office.  The child was left unattended, and the child’s fingers were amputated in a paper shredder.  The child sued the employer that owned and controlled the office space.  In this particular case the child’s claims were denied, at least in part because the employer had an office policy that excluded children from the employee area of the office.  The establishment of this office policy was found to be a reasonable measure by the owner to protect against injuries such as the one inflicted by the paper shredder.

Claims against the supervisory adult:

In other instances, the best claim may be a based on an adult’s failure to adequately supervise a child.  If a non-parent is supervising the child, and that adult allows the child to play with the paper shredder, the adult could be liable if the child’s fingers are pulled into the machine, and an amputation or other injury occurs.  Legally speaking, these claims are judged under a negligence standard:  did the adult take reasonable measures to ensure that the child would be safe from the hazards of the paper shredder?  In many jurisdictions, these claims may apply special standards that are not present in most negligence lawsuits.  Furthermore, most jurisdictions do not allow the child to bring a claim against the child’s parent.

If your child (or the child of a friend or loved one) has been injured by a home paper shredder, a lawsuit should be considered.  Under most circumstances, one of the three types of claims will be viable.  Even if the injury occurred some time ago, the lawyers may be able to assist in the filing of a lawsuit.