Southern Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

Articles Tagged with Indiana Product Liability Act

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The Indiana Supreme Court recently held in Brewer v. PACCAR, Inc. that a component part manufacturer (PACCAR) may have a duty to offer or install necessary safety features under Indiana’s Product Liability Act (IPLA). Because issues of fact existed as to whether the safety features were offered and necessary to make the final product safe, the Court reversed the trial court’s finding that PACCAR owed no duty, as a matter of law, to install safety features that the injury party alleged were necessary.

The IPLA subjects a manufacturer of “a product or a component part of a product,” I.C. § 34-6-2-77, to liability for physical harm caused by a manufacturer placing “into the stream of commerce any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to any user or consumer,” I.C. § 34-20-2-1. A product is defective under the IPLA if it is defectively designed, if it has a manufacturing flaw, or if it lacks adequate warnings about dangers associated with its use.

Rickey Brewer was a construction foreman killed when a semi driver backed up a semi with an integrated PACCAR glider kit, did not see Rickey, and pinned him against a trailer, killing him.  His widow and his estate asserted an IPLA claim against PACCAR. The claim asserted PACCAR’s glider kit was defectively designed because it lacked certain safety features to reduce the danger inherent in its forty-foot blind spot. (If you drive a vehicle with a rear camera and sensors, you can probably attest to the peace of mind and safety such devices add to our everyday life). Here, because a design-defect claim is based in negligence, Brewer would need to be able to prove at trial that (1) PACCAR owed a duty to Rickey; (2) PACCAR breached that duty; and (3) the breach proximately caused an injury to Rickey. The only element at issue in the case was duty—whether PACCAR lacked a duty, as a matter of law, to install certain safety features.

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The Indiana Supreme Court recently held in Campbell Hausfeld/Scott Fetzer Co. v. Johnson that product misuse, like the defenses of incurred risk and product alteration, operates as a complete defense to bar recovery in product liability cases. While misuse is normally a question of fact for the jury, under this opinion, misuse can be established as a matter of law, for which summary judgment can be granted, when the undisputed facts show the plaintiff misused the product in an unforeseeable manner in direct contravention of the product’s warnings and instructions, and that such misuse caused the harm and could not have been reasonably expected by the seller.

The Plaintiff was seriously injured in this case when he used a grinder designed by the Defendant in an attempt to cut around a truck’s headlight opening to substitute larger headlights. The Defendant’s warnings and instructions directed users to wear safety glasses, to avoid attaching a cut-off disc without a safety guard in place, and to avoid using a cut-off disc with an RPM rating below the minimum of 25,000 RPM. The evidence established that the Plaintiff did not follow these warnings and instructions and the Indiana Supreme Court found that, despite any product defect, had the Plaintiff used a guard and safety glasses, he would not have been injured.

An injury claim arising out of the use of a product falls under the Indiana Products Liability Act (IPLA).  Under the IPLA, a product-liability plaintiff must show that a product was in an unreasonably dangerous defective condition and that the product caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiffs can establish that a product was defective because of a manufacturing flaw, a defective design, or a failure to warn of dangers while using the product. Strict liability claims under the IPLA are limited to manufacturing defect claims, while claims based upon design defects or inadequate warnings or instructions are determined under negligence principles. While comparative fault principles still apply under the IPLA, the IPLA provides three non-exclusive defenses—incurred risk, product alteration, and product misuse— which based upon this opinion, all now operate as complete defenses, if proven, despite any product defects.

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