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District judge asks court to answer certified question

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The U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana is asking the state’s Supreme Court to accept a certified question in litigation involving the Indiana Products Liability Act.

U.S. District Judge Larry J. McKinney granted plaintiff Nicholas Green’s motion to certify a question of Indiana law June 30. The question is, “Whether, in a crashworthiness case alleging enhanced injuries under the Indiana Products Liability Act, the finder of fact shall apportion fault to the person suffering physical harm when that alleged fault relates to the cause of the underlying accident.”

Green was driving a 1999 Ford Explorer Sport in Indianapolis in January 2006 when his vehicle left the road, hit a guard rail, rolled down an embankment, and came to rest upside down in a ditch. Green is now a quadriplegic because of the accident.

He sued Ford Motor Company in federal court under the state’s Product Liability Act, claiming the design of the car was defective and unreasonably dangerous, and Ford was negligent in its design of the car’s restraint system.

Ford intends to assert an affirmative defense based upon Green’s alleged negligence in causing the underlying accident. Green argues his alleged negligence is irrelevant because only a product’s defective design can cause “enhanced injuries.”

“…the critical question is whether a plaintiff who negligently causes the underlying accident in a crashworthiness or enhanced injury case also ‘causes’ the enhanced injuries that, by law, the plaintiff is required to prove were caused by the defective design,” wrote Judge McKinney. “Indiana Code section 34-20-8-1 does not answer that question ….”

Judge McKinney noted that the law is uncertain, no Indiana court has written on the issue, there is a split of authority in other states, and the issue is a matter of vital public concern. Until the issue is resolved, the judge administratively closed the case out of the Indianapolis Division, Nicholas A. Green v. Ford Motor Co., No. 1:08-CV-0163, pending a resolution by the Supreme Court.
 

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