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Plaintiff failed to prove injury caused by crane lessor

February 4, 2016

A man severely injured at work by a crane failed to prove that a company breached a duty to inspect a certain part of a crane before delivering it to the renter for use, and that the alleged breach was the proximate cause of the injury, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

Kyle Carson worked for White Construction at a wind farm when his foot was run over by a crane leased to White Construction by ALL Erection & Crane Rental Corp. The crane operator stopped the crane, but because of a detent, a feature that would hold the crane throttles in place without continued pressure and allow the crane to move, the crane suddenly moved and ran over Carson’s foot, requiring amputation.

An inspector attributed the unexpected movement of the crane to a failure of the solid-state electrical circuitry for this cruise-control mechanism.

Carson sued ALL alleging negligence. The district court held that ALL did owe a duty to Carson to perform a proper inspection of the crane upon delivery and that because ALL did not specifically inspect the travel detent upon delivery, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendant breached that duty. But, the district court granted summary judgment for ALL because it found that Carson offered no evidence of proximate cause.

In Kyle Carson v. ALL Erection & Crane Rental Corp., 14-3243, the 7th Circuit noted that inspector Craig Scholl spent an hour operating the crane with the goal of recreating the one suspected malfunction and the crane worked as intended. An hour later, he returned the joysticks to neutral and found that the travel detent had set on its own and that it malfunctioned intermittently.

“Thus, while we assume ALL had a duty to inspect the travel detent before delivery and that a jury could find a breach of that duty, we do not think a jury could reasonably find that ALL breached the duty by failing to engage in the sort of prolonged efforts Scholl needed to replicate the intermittent failure after the accident,” Judge David Hamilton wrote.

“Under Indiana substantive law, the defendant in a negligence action is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when ‘there is a total absence of evidence or reasonable inferences on at least one essential element of the plaintiff’s case,’” he continued. “Proximate cause is an essential element of a negligence action, and Carson has no evidence permitting a reasonable inference in his favor as to that element. ALL was entitled to summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a).”

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