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Trial court erred in instructing jury in negligence case

April 11, 2012

A divided Indiana Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial in a case alleging a product was negligently designed, with the majority finding the trial court erred when it instructed the jury on the rebuttable presumption under Indiana Code 34-20-5-1.

Anthony Wade, an employee of Richmond Power, was rendered a quadriplegic in 1997 when he fell 12 feet out of a double-man bucket attached to a company truck when trying to exit the bucket. Two years later, he sued Terex-Telelect, the manufacturer of the bucket, claiming the company was negligent under the Indiana Products Liability Act in the design of the bucket. He argued that the company should not have been able to sell a bucket liner that contained no molded interior step.

Terex presented evidence that it complied with Richmond Power’s specifications for the product desired and that it was manufactured to meet the standards in place at the time of production. Wade made a motion for a directed verdict, arguing there was a lack of evidence to support the company’s claim that its product was in conformity with the generally recognized state of the art applicable to the safety of the product, and he objected to Terex’s tendered final jury instruction pertaining to the rebuttable presumption allowed under the act that a product is not defective if it was made state of the art and in compliance with government standards. Both motions were overruled and the trial court adopted the tendered instruction. The jury allocated zero fault to Terex and 100 percent fault to Wade.

In Anthony Wade v. Terex-Telelect, Inc., No. 29A05-1101-CT-72, Judges James Kirsch and Nancy Vaidik found Wade was prejudiced by the instruction of the jury as to the rebuttable presumption because it was unsupported by relevant evidence and went to the very heart of the case. Terex didn’t present sufficient evidence to support its contention that the liner at issue complied with applicable government regulations.

Judge Cale Bradford dissented on this point, disagreeing that the trial court abused its discretion in instructing the jury regarding the rebuttable presumption that a product is non-defective if it conforms to applicable government regulations.

The three judges agreed that Terex was not entitled to a “state of the art” instruction and that a retrial would be necessary based on this error.

 

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